Reducing the Risk of a Fire
14 February 2019
Only three elements are required in order for a construction site to be set ablaze: an ignition source, an oxygen source, and a fuel source. Fires are highly destructive, with the consequences including guaranteed damage to materials, possible delays to a project, and a potential risk to life. We need to find a way of reducing the risk of fires starting on-site.
The first step would be to identify the hazards on-site and remove them completely or restrict their interaction with flammable materials. The list of hazards will be unique to your site, but we’ve provided a list of the most common materials that need to be considered when ensuring your site is protected against a fire.
High Risk Project Types
All construction sites will have fire hazards throughout, but refurbishment, demolition or reconstruction project types are at the highest risk of potential blazes. This is predominantly due to old electrical cabling and concealed dry wood. These coupled with sparks caused by soldering or sawing and you have the start of a potential fire.
Equipment and machinery require fire precautions put in place to protect the kit and the labourers, with all equipment to be maintained, ensuring it is not a hazard. Equipment needs to be kept away from combustible materials, such as coverings and sheeting to ensure they do not overheat.
Fire precautions should not only be considered at the start of the project, but every few weeks. Even one slip and a project, and money, can go up in flames, literally. Utilising PAL Hire to store flammable building materials is one way in which fires can be avoided on-site.
Fuelling the Fire
Walking across a generic construction site, you’ll come across a wide range of combustible fuels, such as LPG (Liquid Petroleum Gas). LPG is highly dangerous and if stored or used incorrectly, it can become a fire hazard.
Even if a vessel that has contained LPG, but is now empty, should be treated as if it was full due to the vessel potentially containing LPG vapour, which is as dangerous as the fuel itself.
Fuel used to power plant equipment and vehicles on-site should be considered when construction work is taking place. The dangerous come from refuelling activities that take place on-site to keep the equipment running.
There are several precautions that must be followed whenever refuelling takes place, such as ensuring engines are not running and not smoking around fuel. Either of these instances would cause in an instantaneous fire.
Construction sites will store fuel to make it more convenient to refuel equipment. Storing fuel requires health and safety considerations, such as ensuring storage tanks are properly maintained to prevent fuel leakage. Fuel tanks can be hired from PAL Hire.
The location of fuel tanks is also an important factor in site safety. The area needs to be away from construction activities such as grinding or welding, which can result in sparks that come into contact with leaked fuel. The area should also be clearly marked to reduce the likelihood of fuel tanks or pipes being damaged. There must be sufficient room for vehicles to manoeuvre, reducing the chances of the vehicle hitting the fuel tanks.
Manned Security On-Site
Construction sites seem to be a hotbed for criminal activity and it’s no surprise given the equipment on-site being worth hundreds and thousands of pounds. Fuel is one such commodity that can be siphoned and stolen from a site.
It is vital refuelling areas have sufficient security measures in place, such as manned security in order to prevent potential robberies.
Manned security has the additional benefit of being able to alert the authorities of fires on-site when a site is vacant or if a fire occurs overnight. This ensures fires do not go unattended for a longer period, limiting the amount of damage.
Security on-site could also prevent the possibility of an arson attack, caused by humans who simply wish to cause havoc and watch the world burn. Although flame retardant materials are now in general use, there certain types of scaffolding or roof coverings that are still flammable and manned security can act as a deterrent to anybody thinking of damaging a site.
The Human Element
Sometimes, the most effective measure to prevent fires is good housekeeping. Ensuring all hazardous materials are kept out of harm’s way to limit the potential of a fire and keeping all evacuation routes clear at all times in the event of a blaze can be the best course of action.
Last summer, Essex firefighters successfully tackled a huge blaze at a construction site near Debden Station. The fire broke out at an unfinished, three-story building, with several roads being closed and Essex County Fire and Rescue Service advising people to close doors and windows to avoid being affected by the smoke.
Construction sites are dangerous places and have a duty to protect labourers and the public from any potential fires. Sites must be fully equipped with the necessary tools to both warn against and fight fires. Taking precautions goes part way to reducing the risk of fires on-site, but also using a little common sense and if something doesn’t seem safe, alerting those in charge could save lives.