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Extinguish risk from the very start

The majority of fires can be prevented by taking simple measures and good management. By Shelley Atkinson Frost.

Every year there are over 4,000 fires on construction sites and approx 100 of them cause damage in excess of £500,000. Other consequences include fatalities, injuries, damaged equipment and delayed completions.

The majority of fires can be prevented by designing out risks, taking simple measures and good management. In particular you should ensure that:

  • Adequate detection and prevention measures are incorporated into the contract planning stage, and

  • Work on site is carried out to the highest standard of fire safety with risk assessments covering every aspect of the construction project.

This quick guide aims to help you to achieve this on the smaller sites.

Fire legistation

The Regulatory Reform (Fire Safety) Order 2005 (RRO – in place since October) 2006 and Construction (Design and Management) Regulations 2007 (CDM – in place since April 2007) require that fire safety is considered, assessed and managed throughout the life of a construction project.

Fire certificates will no longer be issues by HSE – the onus is on the firm’s responsible person to carry out the management processes.

Design and planning

Designers must consider the possible risks of fire relating to construction and use of the building. In particular they should avoid specifying flammable materials where possible or if not possible they should identify less flammable alternatives. They should also consider compartmentation of a building to stop the spread of fire.

Construction works should be designed, planned and sequenced to achieve the early installation of:

  • Permanent means of escape

  • Fire stopping processes

  • Fire protective materials to structural steelwork

  • Planned fire fighting shafts

  • Lightening conductors

  • Automatic fire detection systems

  • Automatic sprinklers

The client should agree to use of these before tenders are invited.

Fire risk assessment

The RRO requires the completion and management of a fire risk assessment – a 9 step approach is recommended:

  1. Overview of the building being assessed

  2. Fire hazards identified

  3. Likelihood of fire

  4. Fire protection measures in the building

  5. Fire safety management within the building

  6. Assessed consequences of fire

  7. Fire risk assessment – based on steps 3-7

  8. Action plan

  9. Review date and record keeping

There should be early consultation with the Local Authority Building Control and Fire Authority on how to comply with things such as means of escape, fire warning systems and fire fighting.

Water supplies

Adequate water supplies for fire fighting must be made readily available eg normal mains and hydrants, water tanks, or access to swimming pools or rivers. Early consultation with the Fire Brigade will provide advice on what is right for you.

Site fire safety plan

The main or principal contractor (PC) is responsible for assessing the degree of the possible risk from fire and for producing the site fire safety plan (as part of the construction phase plan).

The plan should detail:

  • Name of the site fire safety co-ordinator

  • Fire escape and communications

  • Fire brigade access (at least 3m wide and 4m high)

  • Fire drills and training

  • Any hot work permit regime

  • Site accommodations

  • Security measures to prevent arson

  • Materials storage and waste control

Site fire safety co-ordinator

The RRO requires a responsible person to be identified – such as the site fire safety co-ordinator. The co-ordinator must be competent and given the authority to:

  • Ensure that all procedures in the site fire safety plan are understood and complied with

  • Conduct weekly inspections of escape routes, access, fire fighting equipment and alarms/diction equipment.

  • Maintain a written record of all checks and inspections

  • Regularly monitor and check the detailed arrangements and procedures for calling the fire brigade

  • Liaise with the local fire brigade and any other relevant personnel e.g. security

  • Undertake safe evacuation processes

  • Promote fire safe working environment at all times

Emergency procedures

Written emergency procedures must be displayed in prominent locations and made available to all workers on site.

Fire alarms

On all sites, a means of warning in case of fire must be provided and a system established. It must be able to be activated immediately. On small open air sites or those involving small structures, word of mouth may be adequate. Larger sites require louder systems such as klaxons.

Means of Escape

These must be provided, kept clear, fully available, well lit and clearly identified. The locations may change as construction progresses – any changes must be communicated.

The early identification and provision of alternative escape routes is essential. Routes should be kept as short as possible. There should normally be two escape routes running in different directions and a need for at least one stairway to be protected against fire in the work area.

The wall against which any fire escape staircase is erected should offer half hour fire resistance to 1.8m either side of the staircase, above and below it.

Extinguishersand other fire protection equipment

The site fire safety co-ordinator should arrange for an adequate number of people to be trained in the use of portable fire fighting equipment. Adequate numbers of suitable types of equipment must be available throughout the site.

BS EN 3 (from January 2007) requires all new portable extinguishers to have red bodies. Under BS 7863, the colour of the panel displaying the extinguishing medium should be:

Extinguishing Medium Panel
Water Red
Foam Cream
Carbon Dioxide Black
Dry Powder Blue

Download the table at the bottom of the page to find out which medium to use each type of fire.

Extinguishers must be located near exits on each floor, adjacent to any fire alarm and with a clear sign fire point. The carrying handle should be 1m above the floor. In the open, they should be in red painted boxes, raised 500mm above ground level with a sign fire point at a height readily seen over nearby obstructions.

Temporary buildings

Location and use of temporary buildings needs to be managed in accordance with the findings of the fire risk assessment. Proximity of other buildings, plant, vehicles and means of escape must be considered. They should be separated from the building under construction and other permanent buildings, preferably by at least 10m.

Highly flammable liquids (HFLs) and LPGS

These should be stores in open compounds, securely fenced and shaded from the sun. They should be at least 3m from the site boundary with any fencing at least 2m high.

If it is necessary to store HFLs and LPGs at the workplace, the quantity stored should be below 50 litres or half a day’s supply whichever is the lesser.

The containers must be kept in storage of fire resistant construction and should be sited at least 10m from other buildings or if not possible, within 4m of any building. If the boundary wall is at least 30 mins fire resistant, containers should be 1m below the top of the wall.

Products which could add to the intensity of a fire, such as oxygen must not be stored in the same compound as HFLs and LPGs.

Other guidance

Fire Prevention on construction Sites: Joint Code of Practice on the Protection from Fire of Construction Sites (CC, FPA) 6ed Jan 2006 Tel 0870 078 4400 www.cip-books.com

Details on the RRO can be found at www.firesafetyguides.communities.gov.uk

Shelley Atkinson Frost is director of Health & Safety at the Construction Confederation