Process fire risks

What you need to do

The Regulatory Reform (Fire Safety) Order 2005 sets out the law on construction site general fire safety, including means of escape.

The CDM Regulations 2015 also impose duties including the requirement to prevent risk from fire. The fire risk from site activities must be assessed and precautions taken to control:

  • Combustible material – the quantity of combustible materials on site should be kept to the minimum and all such materials safely stored and used.
  • Ignition sources – action is needed to eliminate, reduce and control ignition sources on site.

Construction of timber frame buildings will require significant additional measures to those outlined here. You should refer to the specific guidance listed in Resources, below.

What you need to know

Each year there are a number of serious fires on construction sites and buildings undergoing refurbishment. Many could be avoided by careful planning and control of work activities.

Any outbreak of fire threatens the safety of those on site and will be costly in damage and delay. It can also be a hazard to people in surrounding properties.

Fire can be a particular hazard in refurbishment work when there is a lot of dry timber and at the later stages of building jobs where flammable materials such as adhesives, insulating materials and soft furnishings are present

Combustible material

Many solids, liquids and gases can catch fire and burn. It only takes a source of ignition, which may be a small flame or an electrical spark, together with air. Preventive actions that can be taken include:

  • Quantity: fire risk can be reduced by controlling the amount of combustible material in the work area until it is needed;
  • Flammability: it may be possible to specify materials that are less combustible. Remember that when worked on, materials may become more easily ignited eg solids turned to dust or crumb;
  • Storage: combustible materials should ideally be stored outside buildings under construction, especially volatile materials eg LPG. Internal storage must be planned and located where it will not put workers at risk;
  • Rubbish: good housekeeping and site tidiness are important to prevent fire and to ensure that emergency routes do not become obstructed;
  • Volatile flammable materials: extra precautions are needed for flammable liquids, gases and oxygen cylinders especially when internally stored;
  • Coverings and sheeting: protective coverings and scaffold sheeting may add to fire risk. This can be reduced by use of flame retardant materials;
  • LPG: liquefied petroleum gas (LPG) is widely used in construction eg in connection with bitumen boilers and site accommodation. LPG has been involved in many serious fires and explosions, particularly where there have been leaks in confined areas. Strict precautions are required where LPG is stored and used; and
  • Tanks and services: demolition projects can involve an increased risk of fire and explosion. Dismantling of tank structures may cause ignition of flammable residues or disruption and ignition of buried gas services.

Ignition sources

It is important that you take action to control ignition sources including:

  • Hot work: all hot work generating heat, sparks or flame can cause a fire. Precautions include:
    • clearing the area of combustible materials;
    • suitable fire extinguishers; and
    • maintaining a careful watch throughout the work.
    • a permit to work (PTW) system can help manage the risk on larger projects.
  • Plant and equipment: select electrical and engine driven plant of suitable capacity to prevent overheating. Fasten lamps to a solid backing and, if mounted on tripods, make sure the tripod is stable. Electrical equipment in flammable atmospheres must be suitable for the nature and extent of the flammable atmosphere;
  • Smoking: bring the rules on smoking to the attention of all workers and visitors to the site and enforce them;
  • Electrical installations: should be of sufficient capacity for the intended use and designed, installed, inspected and maintained by competent people;
  • Bonfires: should not normally be allowed on site. There should be alternative arrangements for the proper disposal of rubbish and waste;
  • Arson: measures should be in place to prevent unauthorised site access. Sites with high fire loading or a history of vandalism and arson may need additional measures eg lighting, out-of-hours security or CCTV.

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