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Fire Danger in the Construction Zone

March 2017

Fires are a significant fire hazard on construction sites. A November 2014 National Fire Prevention Association report found that between 2007 and 2011, U.S. fire departments responded to an average of 5,120 structure fires in residential properties that were either under construction or undergoing major renovation.

Each year, those fires led to an average of nine deaths, 94 injuries and $265 million in direct property damage. Firefighter deaths and injuries are not included in those statistics.

But proper planning and monitoring can improve your chances of completing a project without incident.

Project Planning

Before beginning a construction project:

  • Review the construction site, contemplating adjacent exposures that may affect the project
  • Look at how accessible the site would be for firefighters and their equipment
  • Develop a site-specific fire prevention plan, educating employees about what to do in case of fire
  • Establish a Hot Work Permit program that requires operations involving any sparks, open flames or heat-producing activities to follow safety protocols before, during or after work has been  completed.

During Construction

Throughout construction, conduct thorough on-site inspections. Trained representatives of your project management team should inspect the site daily and retain all documentation. Inspections should include:

  • Active construction areas
  • Material storage areas, including special consideration for flammable items
  • Construction trailers and temporary structures
  • Site perimeter and adjavent property exposures
  • Mobile construction equipment storage areas

Additonal Considerations

  • All construction trailers, storage trailers and offices should be made of noncombustible material and be at least 50 feet away from the construction site an at least 30 feet from each other.
  • Fire department site access areas must be clearly identified, maintained an dunobstructed at all times. Access to fire hydrants or qualified water supplies for firefighting must be readily avaliable whether adjacent to or within the boundaries of the project site.
  • Store all combustible materials sagely and consider ordering them as needed to minimize the amount on hand. Spontaneous combustion of paint solvents, oily rags and similar materials discarded with trash can lead to a major loss.
  • Establish and strictly enforce a no smoking policy throughout the duration of the project.
  • Provide fire extinfuishers, rated not less than 2A, for each 3,000 square feet of the protected building area. The trafel distance from any point of the protected area to the nearest fire extingisher must not exceed 100 feet per Occupational Safety and Health Administraion standards. When there are multiple levels, OSHA requires an extinguisher be placed near the staircase on entry level.
  • Enforce good housekeeping in areas around permanent electrical installations, preventing accumulation of debris or combustible materials neat live electricity. Temporary electrical equipment should have ground fault circuit interrupters.
  • Install and activate an automatic sprinkler system as soon as possible agter the building shell has been completed.
  • Collect all demolition and construction material as soon as possible. Removal of discarded materials should be done by a qualified disposal service on a regular basis- daily, if necessary- to eliminate accumulation of refuse. Position dumpsters away from buildings. Use metal containers with close-fitting lids for rags. Avoid burning any refuse, but if unavoidable, burn at lease 150 feet from buildings. Some jurisdictions prohibit open burning; remember to follow any local burning bans and observe any red-flag warnings in wildfire and forest fire areas.
  • Provide safe temporary heaters. Secure them on a solid base away from any woodwork and keep the floor free of all combustible material. Before leaving, be sure the heater is turned off.

Fire exposures are high and constantly changing throughout the course of construction. Key personnel on site must always know it's their responsibility to follow fire control procedures. Contractors have a responsibility to make sure that a fire control plan is specific, adequate and - most importantly- executed.

Thank you Camlyn Zanardelli, Marita Mathe, and Troy Dohmeyer at the Cincinnati Insurance Company for contributing the information contained in this article.

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