Construction sites are a breeding ground for fires. Highly flammable waste items, fluids, hot works processes, and incomplete electrical systems can all be found on any job site. When you factor in the possibility of vandalism and worker inattention, you have a volatile threat on your hands. Your client should have a fire-prevention plan in place, but it’s a good idea to collaborate with them.
For all phases of construction, repair, or demolition work, OSHA requires employers to design a site-specific fire prevention program. Their Fire Protection and Prevention document specifies the types of fire protection and control equipment that must be available. It also includes necessary preventative measures such as eliminating ignition sources and the proper storage of combustible goods.
On any building site, fire is a genuine danger. Irresponsible smoking, improper housekeeping, shoddy electrical tool maintenance, usage of portable heaters, defective wiring, or a lack of appropriate fire watch are all common causes of fires.
“By rigging, sabotage, or simple laziness, careless or shortcut-taking employees might create fire hazards throughout a work shift,” warns ELCOSH (Electronic Library of Construction Occupational Safety & Health). While work supervisors cannot guarantee fire prevention on any construction site, they can take reasonable precautions to ensure a safe work environment.
Here is a list of elements that should be addressed in a construction fire prevention program:
- Liquid storage locations that are flammable or explosive
- Chemical storage in bulk
- Combustible waste products accumulating.
- Policy on smoking
- Heating devices that are only used temporarily (i.e., electric, propane, natural gas, kerosene, fuel oil, coal oil, solid fuel)
- Wiring and equipment for electricity
- Operations involving welding, particularly overhead welding and cutting
- Internal combustion engines, including fuel supply and exhaust sparks
- Firefighting apparatus and systems (extinguishers, fire hoses, sprinklers, standpipes)
- System of alarms
- Cutoff devices for fires (i.e., automatic door closing devices)
Let’s delve a little more into some of these points.
Housekeeping deters building fire hazards
Collaborate with your customer to determine problem areas and build a fire-prevention program that is easy and effective. Ensure that the site’s boundaries are clearly marked and that public access is forbidden. Clear the premises of all types of trash, scrap, brush, weeds, and process waste daily. Make sure there are no packing materials in or around the building, such as paper, plastic, straw, or empty wooden crates. Here are some more pointers:
- Exit and egress spaces should not be used to store materials or equipment.
- Establish and implement a “No Smoking/Open Flame” policy. Put up signs that say “No Smoking” or “No Open Flame.”
- Provide garbage receptacles in a designated eating area.
- Ensure that easily combustible waste materials, such as oily rags, are disposed of in dumpsters or metal bins.
- Allowing greasy or solvent-soaked rags or cloths to gather, especially in poorly ventilated spaces, is never a good idea.
- Never keep slaked lime in a moist environment; soggy slaked lime is a fire hazard.
- Do not stack combustible materials more than 20 feet high.
- Clear areas with enough walkways around piles of stored materials.
- Ensure that materials are stacked so that they do not obstruct fire sprinkler systems (if they exist).
- Keep outdoor materials a minimum of 10 feet away from the structure when storing them. Keep a safe distance between any lighting or heating appliances.
- Firefighters should have easy access to storage areas.
Flammable materials as fire hazards
Specialty trade contractors are brought in when buildings are nearing completion of the shell erection. They bring packing, finishes, and services with them, increasing the amount of potential fire fuel.
A wood-frame building contains less fire fuel than a structural steel building with noncombustible curtain walls. However, before the gypsum board is installed, a frame building risks becoming a vertical kindling pile. As a result, it’s critical to keep reassessing the site’s fire risk throughout the development phase.
The following are some further suggestions from ELCOSH:
- Paint, lacquer, flammable solvents, thinners, and other flammables should be stored properly, and this area should be prominently labeled as combustible storage.
- Carry flammable substances exclusively in safety containers, not in open tins, buckets, or similar containers. Make sure they’re handled safely and away from any potential ignition sources. Employees should be trained in the usage of flammables as well as safety considerations.
- Non-sparking tools should be available in areas where flammable liquids are stored or utilized.
- Inspect machinery regularly, focusing on lubrication and cleanliness.
- Drip trays should be available.
- Ensure that particular products, such as LPG cylinders and other combustible materials are properly stored.
- Take precautions to avoid getting oil on your floors and walls.
- Keep heating appliances away from woodworking and combustible construction materials.
Electrical Equipment as Fire Hazards
Electrical fires are caused by flaws in electrical equipment and temporary extension wiring. Remind your client to take the following steps:
- Check electrical tools and equipment for faulty wiring regularly.
- Make sure that portable heaters aren’t knocked over.
- Keep the amount of temporary extension wire to a bare minimum and avoid overloading existing circuits.
- Reduce the use of portable lamps and make sure they are properly stored.
- Make sure the primary switches of electrical circuits are turned off when the equipment is not in use.
- When lockout/tagout procedures are required, follow them.
- Ensure that all fire equipment is in good operating order and is ready to use at all times.
Welding and Hot Work Equipment as Fire Hazards
Before doing any hot work, make sure there are no fire hazards. Workers should be trained to be aware of any flammable fumes or combustible items and remove these hazards before starting hot work. Firefighting equipment should be handy and ready to use. As a precaution, schedule a fire watch to keep an eye on the welding area. While hot work is being done, the fire watch should be educated in fire extinguisher use and have an extinguisher on hand. They must also know how to activate the fire alarm system. 30 minutes after the hot task is completed, the fire watch will be on duty to detect and extinguish any smoldering fires.
Final Thoughts on Construction Fire Hazards
Inspecting your construction site regularly is vital for the prevention of fire hazards. This will help you immediately address these hazards and take the steps necessary to prevent fires from starting in the first place.