Builder's Risk: Construction Fire Prevention

All building structures, regardless of construction type, are more vulnerable to a fire while they are under construction compared to when they are completed. Fire spread at a construction site is more difficult to control due to the lack of fire protection, detection systems and compartmentation as well as larger than normal quantities of combustibles.

Learn to minimize the risk of construction fires with five basic steps:

1) Focus on High Hazard Activities

Hot Work

  • 46% of all construction-related fires are caused by hot work (welding, cutting, brazing)
  • Hot work permits should be used to ensure activities are within expectations
  • Combustibles within 35 feet of hot work areas should be removed or protected
  • Be cognizant of floor openings and the potential for sparks to travel to lower levels

Trash Removal

  • Trash should be removed continuously to avoid accumulation
  • If chutes are used they should be non-combustible
    • Fires that start in dumpsters can travel up a plastic chute and spread to the building
  • Dumpsters must be emptied as necessary and should be separated from the building when possible

Roofing

  • Tar and asphalt kettles
    • Kept off of the roof
    • Separate from combustibles and the building
  • Torch-applied roofing systems
    • Train employees on safe installation methods
    • Ensure hot work procedures are followed
  • Solvent preparation & heat welding
    • Solvents are extremely flammable
    • Turn off heat guns when not in use

Temporary Heating

  • Visually inspect salamanders and other temporary heaters continuously throughout the day
    • Ensure adequate clearances between heater and combustibles
    • Ensure heaters haven't been moved or repositioned
  • Building enclosures
    • Use only flame resistant tarpaulins
    • Ensure plastic/poly film covering is in accordance with NFPA 701
    • Secure enclosure materials with fasteners to prevent contact with heaters or other sources of ignition

2. Site Preparation and Planning

  • Develop a fire protection program
  • Ensure site access roads are capable of supporting fire and emergency vehicles
  • Ensure water supply for fire protection is available
  • Establish and maintain "No Smoking" policy
  • Ensure site is cleared of brush, trees, debris, or other materials that may contribute to a fire
  • Ensure fire cutoffs, walls, and exit stairways are given priority throughout construction

3. Material Storage

  • Keep combustible materials to a minimum, limited to six feet in height and two pallet widths
  • Keep flammable and combustible liquids to a minimum
    • Store in approved safety cans
    • Maintain with secondary containment
    • Protect from ignition sources and accidental impact
  • Separate fuel gasses and oxygen
    • Secure upright
    • Keep them away from potential ignition sources

4. Ensure Appropriate Setup of Jobsite Trailers and Contractor Sheds

Temporary buildings of normal, combustible construction should be kept at least 30 feet from the building under construction. Temporary buildings should be sprinklered wherever possible. Fire hazards associated with temporary buildings include:

  • Overloaded temporary wiring
  • Improperly installed portable heating equipment
  • High level of fuel load from documents, prints, plans, etc.

5. Fire Extinguishers and Sprinklers

  • Fire extinguishers
    • Ensure visibility, adequate quantity and appropriate class
    • Ensure availability on each floor, including the roof
  • Sprinkler systems
    • Install as building construction progresses
    • Test and operate prior to significant combustibles being introduced into the structure

 
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