Construction SiteThe risk of a fire breaking out on a construction site can be very high.  Not only can people be killed or injured, but fires can also be financially devastating to those involved.  The bigger the project the higher the risk, but even smaller construction sites should have robust measures in place to prevent or manage a fire.

Fires can grow extremely rapidly. If a construction fire occurs, the primary aim is to ensure that all those on-site reach safety as soon as possible. Delay can be fatal. Site staff may need to fight a fire to enable their escape, but tackling larger fires is the fire brigade’s task.

To help keep everyone safe and to protect the construction project in question, Hartson Fire has come up with the following guidelines:

Legal requirements

The construction industry comes under The Construction (Design and Management) Regulations 2015 (CDM 2015) which are divided into 5 parts:

  • Part 1 deals with the application of the Regulations and definitions.
  • Part 2 covers general duties that apply to all construction projects.
  • Part 3 contains additional duties that only apply to notifiable construction projects, i.e. those lasting more than 30 days or involving more than 500 person days of construction work.
  • Part 4 contains practical requirements that apply to all construction sites.
  • Part 5 contains the transitional arrangements and revocations.

These regulations require measures both to prevent fires happening and to make sure all people on construction sites (including visitors) are protected if they do occur.

in England and Wales the enforcing authority within the meaning of article 25 of the Regulatory Reform (Fire Safety) Order 2005(a) is ‘the enforcing authority in respect of a construction site which is contained within, or forms part of, premises which are occupied by persons other than those carrying out the construction work or any activity arising from such work, in so far as those regulations relate to fire.’

Fire safety regulations are supported by an Approved Code of Practice (ACoP) which has special legal status and gives practical advice for all those involved in construction work. If you follow the advice in the ACoP you will be doing enough to comply with the law.  Read more here.

Emergency plans

The purpose of emergency plans is to ensure that everyone on site reaches safety if there is a fire. Small and low-risk sites only require very simple plans, but higher risk sites will need more careful and detailed consideration.

 An emergency plan should be prepared and available before work starts with clear instructions on what to do during a fire.  Where CDM applies, this emergency plan should be incorporated in the construction phase health and safety plan.

Prevention of risk from fire

Suitable and sufficient steps should be taken to prevent the risk of injury to anyone working on or visiting a construction site.

These steps should take into consideration:

  • the type of work for which the construction site is being used
  • the characteristics and size of the construction site and the number and location of places of work on that site
  • the work equipment being used
  • the number of persons likely to be present on the site at any one time
  • the physical and chemical properties of any substances or materials on or likely to be on the site.

Everyone working on or visiting the site, should know and understand the fire safety arrangements (which should be tested at suitable intervals).  For example, people need to be made aware of the emergency routes and exits to enable them to reach a place of safety quickly in the event of danger.  These emergency routes need to be indicated with suitable signs and kept clear and free from obstruction. Where necessary, provided with emergency lighting so the emergency route or exit may be used at any time.

Fire detection and fire-fighting equipment

All construction sites must have fire-fighting equipment and fire detection and alarm systems in suitable locations.  This equipment and alarm systems must be examined and tested at suitable intervals and properly maintained according to the fire safety regulations.

Portable fire equipment such as extinguishers, fire blankets and horns should be easily accessible and indicated by suitable signage. Everyone working on the site should be instructed in the correct use of this fire-fighting equipment.

The equipment needed depends on the risk of fire occurring and the likely consequences if it does. It can range from a single extinguisher on small low-risk sites to complex fixed installations on large and high-risk sites.

The right sort of extinguishers depends on the type of fire that could occur. A combination of water or foam extinguishers for paper and wood fires and CO2 extinguishers for fires involving electrical equipment is usually appropriate.

Those carrying out hot work have appropriate fire extinguishers with them and know how to use them.

If fire breaks out the alarm should be raised as soon as the first person discovers it. The type of alarm needed can range from a simple shout of ‘fire’, to manual bells or horns or to sophisticated automatic systems. Whatever system is chosen, make sure that it can be heard by everyone working on site over normal background noise.  These alarms need to be activated immediately and should be checked regularly to ensure that they work as required.

In enclosed buildings people can easily become trapped, especially where they are working above or below ground level. In such cases means of escape need careful consideration.  So, wherever possible, there are at least two escape routes in different directions and enclosed escape routes, for example corridors or stairwells, can resist fire and smoke ingress from the surrounding site.