Exclusive: Industry leaders and fire safety experts are “deeply concerned” about a sharp rise in the number of deliberate fires started on construction sites since 2015.
Data obtained by Construction News from the Home Office as part of an investigation into site fires reveals intentionally caused blazes increased by nearly 43 per cent between 2015-2017 (see graph, below).
During 2015, there was a total of 119 deliberately caused fires, accounting for roughly one-third of that year’s total (376 fires).
By 2017, this had increased to 170, accounting for 42 per cent of fires that took place that year – the highest on record since 2011 (199).
Home Office statistics are not yet available for 2018.
Fire Brigades Union national officer Dave Green said the group is “deeply concerned” by the findings.
“Deliberately caused fires put the lives of workers, firefighters, and members of the public at risk,” he said.
“Fire safety is crucial in all workplaces, but construction sites carry a particular risk. Regular fire safety inspections are vital to ensuring that construction sites and workers remain safe.”
Overall, the total number of fires occurring on construction sites has also been on an upwards trajectory for the past four years according to the Home Office’s data, which goes back to 2010.
The statistics show that after a drop of 25 per cent in the overall number of fires on site for the first three years the total number of fires climbed by nearly a quarter (22 per cent) from 2013 to 2017.
During 2013, there were 334 fires on construction sites across England. By 2017, this had increased to 408 – the highest number recorded since 2011 (426).
The Association of British Insurers head of general insurance policy assistant director Mark Shepherd was also alarmed by CN’s findings as the cost of fire and explosion claims for commercial property insurers was just under a billion (£945m) the year of the increase (2017).
all construction fires credit home office
“This highlights the importance of effective risk management, particularly on construction sites, where insurers work closely with their customers on how best to mitigate fire risk”, he added.
Bam head of health and safety Mark Lockwood said his firm had suffered from several “minor incidents” including two arson attacks.
“The minor incidents that have occurred on our sites during construction can look dramatic and in some of the cases we recognise that there was potential for them to have had a bigger impact, which we have learnt from.
“We can never be complacent, and across the wider industry it is clearly the right time for change and to take the broader view about standards and materials.”
While deliberate fires have spiked since 2015, blazes caused by construction site activities have been on a slow and steady decline.
Between 2015-2017, fires caused by placing combustible articles too close to heat have dropped 29 per cent. Over the same period, those caused by faulty appliances and leads dropped even lower by 38 per cent.
Misuse of equipment has also decreased as a cause by 26 per cent since 2015.