Fire Safety on Construction Sites

In the wake of last week’s tragic fire in a London tower block we think now is a good time to pay attention to fire safety and remind ourselves of the Regulatory Reform (Fire Safety) Order 2005 which sets out the law on construction site fire safety, including escape from fire.

The CDM Regulations 2015 includes the requirement to prevent risk from fire by assessing the fire risk from site activities and taking precautions to control:

·Combustible materials – the quantity of combustible materials on site should be kept to a minimum and all such materials must be safety stored and used.

·Ignition sources – action must be taken to eliminate, reduce and control ignition sources on site.

As you would expect, construction of timber frame buildings requires significant additional measures to those described here there is specific guidance on this below.

A number of serious fires occur on construction sites and building undergoing refurbishment every year and many of these incidents could be avoided with careful planning and control of the work activities.  Any fire threatens the safety of those on site and people in surrounding properties.  Fire is a particular hazard in refurbishment projects when there is a lot of dry timber and also during the later stages of building jobs when flammable materials such as adhesives, insulating materials and soft furnishings are present.

Combustible Materials

It only takes a source of ignition (which could be a small flame or even an electrical spark) together with air to start a fire.  Preventative action includes:

·Quantity: risk can be reduced by controlling the quantity of combustible material in the work area until it is needed

·Flammability: if possible, specify materials that are less combustible. Don’t forget some, materials can be more easily ignited when being worked on e.g. solids turned to dust or crumb

·Storage: combustible materials should be stored outside buildings under construction, especially volatile materials e.g. LPG. Internal storage must be planned and located where it will not put workers at risk

·Rubbish: good housekeeping and site tidiness are important to prevent fire and to ensure that emergency routes are not obstructed

·Volatile flammable materials: extra precautions are needed for flammable liquids, gases and oxygen cylinders especially when stored internally

·Coverings and sheeting: protective coverings and scaffold sheeting may add to fire risk. This can be reduced by use of flame retardant materials;

·LPG: liquefied petroleum gas (LPG) is widely used in construction e.g. in connection with bitumen boilers and site accommodation. LPG has been involved in many serious fires and explosions, particularly where there have been leaks in confined areas. Strict precautions are required where LPG is stored and used

·Tanks and services: demolition projects can involve an increased risk of fire and explosion. Dismantling of tank structures may cause ignition of flammable residues or disruption and ignition of buried gas services

Next week, we’ll take a closer look at ignition sources when it comes to fire safety on construction sites.