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Fire prevention on construction sites

Every year there are a number of serious fires on construction sites and in buildings undergoing refurbishment in the UK.

According to figures from the Health and Safety Executive (HSE), there are around 11 construction site fires every day in the UK, costing the construction industry an estimated £400 million a year, or over £1 million a day.

All sites and buildings under construction are susceptible to fire, and blazes can occur regardless of the simplicity or complexity of the project at hand.

On one level, then, the dangers of construction site fires are material: they destroy equipment, cost money, and delay or even permanently halt projects.

But, more importantly, fires cost lives.

And with the construction industry getting back on its feet after two years of recession, it is more important than ever that business operations are managed so that they run as smoothly and safely as possible.

This article considers some of the vital, yet simple, steps firms need to take to reduce the risk of construction fires.

It also addresses why risk assessors need to shape their plans differently for preventing fires on construction sites that use timber frames.

There are various pieces of health and safety literature that offer guidance on preventing construction fires. These include The Construction (Design and Management) Regulations 2007 and the Regulatory Reform (Fire Safety) Order 2005.

But probably the best-regarded in the industry - and the most useful - is The Joint Code of Practice on the Protection from Fire of Construction Sites and Buildings Undergoing Renovation (JCOP).

Published by the Construction Federation and Fire Protection Association and with industry-wide backing, the JCOP is now in its seventh edition and is comprehensive in scope.

A key first step is to appoint a responsible person to undertake a fire risk assessment for construction projects - in most cases, this will be the principal or main contractor.

The responsible person's duties include checks of on-site fire fighting equipment, and all alarm and detection devices must be tested.

On a weekly basis, escape routes, access for fire and rescue services and temporary electrical cables must also be checked.

Where sites are deemed to be high-risk, the principal contractor should appoint a fire marshal, and deputy fire marshal, who should be permanently based on site to implement the fire safety plan.

It is also imperative that a plan is in place in case of an emergency.

Written emergency procedures must be clearly displayed in prominent locations and given to all site employees.

It is important that clear signage, detailing the location of escape routes, fire extinguishers, dry rise inlets, and access for the emergency services, is also on display.

Where fires are started deliberately - HSE data estimates two out of three fires in construction industry premises are arson - assessors also need to think about implementing security measures, like monitored CCTV, perimeter fencing and hoarding.

And where sites use timber frames, some additional criteria must be factored in.

While incidents are rare, in September last year, the Chief Fire Officers Association called for a review of building regulations following several major fires involving large, timber framed buildings.

Timber frames burn faster and more completely when the construction is incomplete.

There is guidance on timber framed buildings in the JCOP, but The Timber Frame Association has also published a 16-step guide to fire safety on timber sites.

According to Paul Scovell, Contract Works Class Specialist at Aviva, contractors need to take more care on security, use fire-retardant materials, introduce compartmentation at an early stage and undertake better housekeeping for timber frame projects.

"The majority of fires can be prevented by designing out risks taking simple precautions and by adopting safe working practice."ADNFCR-3408-ID-800468296-ADNFCR