Construction - Fire

Who has duties for fire safety on a construction project?

Clients, designers, principal designers, contractors (including principal contractors and construction workers) all have legal duties under The Construction Design and Management Regulations 2015 to eliminate and control the risks from fire safety.

The "responsible person" is defined under the Fire Safety (Regulatory Reform) Safety Order 2005 (England and Wales)/Fire Scotland Act 2005 (Scotland) and have specific duties for fire safety.

Further guidance  on management of fire risks can be found in HSG 168 Fire in Construction (ISBN 978 0 7176 6345 3).

How do I prevent a fire on my construction site?

It is important to control or eliminate sources of ignition and have precautions in place should a fire start.

  • make sure you have a secure site especially at night and weekends
  • in high risk areas you may need to install intruder alarms and /or boundary lighting
  • some sites may need site security patrol
  • reduce the storage of materials and waste on site
  • ensure any materials and waste are kept in designated secure areas

What are fire hazards on a construction site?

For fire to start, three things are needed : a source of ignition, a source of fuel and oxygen.

Examples of sources of ignition you may find on a construction site are:

Heaters; lighting; naked flames; electrical equipment; hot processes (such as welding or grinding); smokers' materials (cigarettes, matches etc) and anything else that can get very hot or cause sparks.

Examples of sources of fuel you may find on a construction site are:
Flammable liquids (petrol, paint, varnish, white spirit etc); wood; paper; plastic; rubber or foam; liquefied petroleum gas (LPG); acetylene; loose packaging materials; waste rubbish; furniture.

Who should carry out a fire risk assessment?

A "responsible person " is defined in  the Regulatory Reform (Fire Safety) Order 2005 (England and Wales). The Fire (Scotland) Act 2005 (Scotland) refers to a "dutyholder".

A responsible person/dutyholder  is usually the employer, owner or occupier. They have a duty to assess the risk from fire and put measures in place that provide adequate protection against the risk of fire. (eg escape routes, warning systems). More information and guidance on how to comply with the law can be found at the Firesafety community.

What is needed in the event of a fire?

General fire precautions need to be considered at the design stage and throughout the life of a project taking into account the changing nature of construction work. What is provided will depend on the level of risk- high risk sites (eg timber frame, multi storey) will need more precautions. The aim is to enable people on a construction site to safely and quickly escape from a fire or explosion and reach a place of safety.

Measures will include:

  • emergency plans
  • raising the alarm
  • limiting the spread of fire by compartmentalising (using fire resisting walls/floors /ceilings to sub divide the building )
  • escape routes and fire exits
  • fire fighting

Further guidance is available in HSG 168 Fire in Construction (ISBN 978 0 7176 6345 3).

What guidance is available for construction of timber frame buildings?

Some guidance is available in HSG 168 Fire Safety in Construction (ISBN 978 0 7176 6345 3).

The UK Timber Frame Association produce a range of guidance topics including a publication "16 Steps to Fire Safety on Timber Frame Construction sites".

On larger projects insurance companies may require compliance with standards set out in Fire prevention on construction sites:Joint Code of Practice 7th Edition (ISBN 978 1 9027 9064 0).

Careful consideration needs to be given to evaluating both the on site and off site risks for construction of timber frame buildings at the conception and design stage. A competent fire engineer may need to be consulted. High standards of control are required to prevent/control fires and protect people during the construction phase and before the protective measures in the completed building are installed. The significant findings of the risk assessment along with the fire precautions and emergency arrangements should be written in the construction phase plan before work starts on site.

What is a fixed alarm system?

This is a fire warning system that alerts people working on site to make their way to an escape before a fire becomes life threatening. The warning signal should be distinctive and heard above other site noise. Types of alarms used will vary depending on the size of site and the nature of the risk. On small low risk sites the alarm may be raised by shouting but on high risk or larger sites a fixed and interconnected system (wired in or wireless) of call points and sounders will be required to provide an effective warning system.

Further guidance can be found in BS 5839:1:2002 + A2:2008 Fire detection and fire alarm systems for buildings. Code of Practice for system design,  installation, commissioning and maintenance (ISBN 978 0 580 604386).

Fire detectors (smoke or heat) may not be suitable on construction sites during the build phase.

How many fire extinguishers do I need?

The number and type of fire extinguishers needed depends on the fire hazard. The fire risk assessment will identify the hazards. The primary purpose of a fire extinguisher is to aid escape from a fire. In some limited circumstances they may be used by a trained person to fight fires in the early stages.

The fire extinguisher should be suitable for the potential fire :

  • Water    
    For wood/paper/textile and solid material
  • Powder      
    For liquid and electrical fires
  • Foam        
    For liquid fires
  • Carbon dioxide     
    For liquid and electrical fires

Fire extinguishers should be located at identifiable fire points at each storey exit and these should be serviced and maintained

Fire extinguishers will also be needed for those carrying out hot work

Can I let people sleep in a building under construction?

No. It is essential that no one sleeps within a building under construction or refurbishment because suitable fire precautions will not be in place and in the event of a fire the rescue services would not assume occupancy and therefore not carry out a search and rescue.

In limited circumstances, purpose built sleeping accommodation may be provided on site with adequate separation distances from the building under construction. These will require a specific fire risk assessment to identify the fire precautions that will be required.  Purpose built sleeping accommodation should include a flushing toilet, a sink and shower both with hot and cold (or warm) running water. There should be a nearby separate area where meals can be prepared & eaten including a means to boil water

Further guidance can be found in Fire safety risk assessments-sleeping accommodation Department for Communities and Local Government 2006(ISBN 978 18511 2817 4).

Is it okay to demolish a building by setting fire to it?

No. If you have permission from your local authority or the environmental regulator to burn some timber on the site this must be done in a controlled way.  Most buildings contain other materials that must not be burnt - eg asbestos containing materials, electric cables and other plastic items including foam insulation.  Many timber materials can now be recycled.

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