Fire Safety on Building Sites

Building sites are notoriously difficult to keep secure. But they’re also places which for a number of reasons, are vulnerable to fire. Let’s take a look at some of the reasons why this is the case, and see what can be done to minimise the risk.
What might cause fire on a building site?
In order for a fire to break out, three things are required:
• An ignition source
• Fuel
• Oxygen

If one of these three things is absent, then a fire will be extinguished. On a building site, oxygen is in plentiful supply – and so our focus should lie principally with ensuring that any potential fuel sources are kept separate from potential ignitors.
When a building is completed, they’ll comply with building regulations designed to minimise the likelihood that the three ingredients of a fire will come into contact with one another. But while a building is being constructed, it will be more vulnerable. For example, if the frame of the building is made from timber, it’ll be unprotected by external finishes before it’s completed. Where older buildings are being refurbished, the presence of flammable materials like wooden panelling and wood-framed plaster walls might also present a source of ignition.
On a building site, there are many different flammable materials, each of which can potentially act as a fuel source for a fire. Moreover, these flammable materials are typically kept in the same place – like planks of wood stacked atop one another.
When we’re looking to prevent fires, we should focus much of our attention on ignition. While constructing something necessarily involves the use of flammable materials like wood, only certain sorts of building require that ignition sources be brought onsite.
Smoking equipment
Some of the workers on a construction site will occasionally want to take a break to smoke. In order to do so, they’ll need to bring the materials necessary to ignite their cigarettes. These include lighters, matches and cigarettes. While a cigarette is unlikely to cause an inferno, they’re not incapable of doing so – particularly if they’re disposed of carelessly – for example, by throwing them into a patch of dry grass. Be sure that your workforce are aware of the dangers, and provide them with the means to safely dispose of smoking equipment.
Building equipment
Some of the contractors you bring onsite will need to use very hot equipment in order to do their jobs. Welders and blowtorches are capable of starting fires – and so you’ll need to be sure that flammable materials are stored well clear of areas where hot work is due to take place. Contractors who use such equipment should be well-versed in the dangers, and professional in their approach to avoiding them.
It isn’t just the equipment that’s designed to produce heat that can act as an ignitor. Those that generate heat as a by-product of friction can also cause a blaze to start – for example, if you’re using a disc cutter, and generating a shower of sparks every time you do so, you’ll want to be sure that there aren’t any petrol cans or propane cylinders nearby – however securely they’re sealed.
Light fittings
Halogen bulbs can provide a means of illuminating a site to allow for work during night time. But they can also provide a potential source of ignition. Be sure that any halogen bulbs you’re using are not allowed to rest on flammable materials.
Domestic appliances
During the course of a construction project, you’ll likely be using a number of domestic products which might potentially act as sources of ignition. Microwaves and portable heaters can, if misused, start a fire. If you’re using a portable heater this winter, then be sure not to place anything flammable – like a towel or curtain – over the top of it.
Natural ignitors
We should also be aware of the danger posed by natural sources of heat like lightning bolts, and, more commonly, sunlight being inadvertently refracted through an unfortunately-placed sheet of glass.
We should also consider the possibility that someone might deliberately start a fire on a construction site. Just as building sites are particularly vulnerable to would-be thieves, they’re also vulnerable to arsonists – and for much the same reasons: a construction project requires that many people constantly come and go, and so unidentified intruders are able to come and go as they please – that is, unless site operators take steps to prevent them from doing so.
What can be done?
Fortunately, there are several steps that can be taken to minimise the threat posed by fires. Three in particular stand out:
Conform with good practice
Through a series of simple precautions and practices, it’s possible to create a culture onsite where fire is taken seriously in much the same way falling objects are – and thereby limit the chance a fire will be caused by carelessness. Carry out frequent risk assessments, and reprimand staff members whose behaviour is found wanting.
Install fire alarms
The best way to guard against a fire is to know that it’s broken out. You can do this by installing fire alarms that will automatically notify a remote monitoring station. Wireless fire alarms offer protection against fire that’s difficult to sabotage – and if they’re monitored 24/7 for every day of the year, you’ll be sure than any blazes are dealt with swiftly, and that your goods will be protected.
Install extra security measures
As well as detecting the fire itself, we can also use technological means to detect the presence of a potential arsonist. Such technologies come in many forms – there are security cameras and intruder alarms, which can, like the fire alarms, be monitored constantly from a remote station. Then there are special turnstiles which can provide sophisticated access control – allowing you to restrict access to your site – and to monitor those present so that wrongdoing can be investigated properly.
While fire can inflict disastrous damage on a construction site, through some prudent techniques and the right technology, the likelihood of one breaking out can be kept to a minimum.