While only making up about 1% of structure fires, fires in facilities under construction have been on the rise since 2014, and the damage they wreak can result in massive financial losses for owners and contractors. Between 2016 and 2020, local fire departments responded to approximately 4,300 fires in structures under construction each year, according to the National Fire Protection Association (NFPA), which resulted in $376 million in direct property damage annually.
“These fires caused an average of five civilian deaths, 62 civilian injuries, and $376 million in direct property damage annually,” NFPA’s Fires in Structures under Construction said.
Most fires in facilities under construction remain small thanks to the presence of workers on-site, but extreme weather, improper training and negligence are the most common causes of fires on a construction site. By understanding the primary hazards on a job site and planning for the possibility of the worst-case scenario, you can mitigate damage while keeping workers safe.
Keep an eye on flammable materials
With temperatures entering the triple digits in many parts of the world, the risk of fires only becomes greater. To prevent any costly mistakes, you should ensure that as few flammable materials are present as possible and that anything remaining on the site overnight is properly stored. The fires that cause the most damage on construction sites are often those that occur between 6 a.m. and midnight, and the most common causes of these fires stem from “heat sources that were too close to combustible materials and abandoned or discarded materials or products,” according to NFPA.
Job site = No smoking zone
Flammable materials may be the leading cause of construction site fires, but smoking habits are another often overlooked hazard on the worksite. Smoking requires an open flame, and in an area with combustible materials, the slightest slip of the hand can ignite a deadly blaze. Even more dangerous is improper disposal of smoking materials, where the slightest remaining ember can cause a worksite to catch fire. To avoid any miscommunications regarding a site’s smoking policy, it is best to universally ban any smoking, and you should place large safety signs indicating the policy throughout the site. Your employees should take any smoke breaks off-site, and they violate these policies, proper discipline needs to be enforced to prevent future transgressions.
The best defense is a good offense
You should also take preemptive measures to mitigate the potential of a fire and ensure employees do not panic should a fire ignite. During the construction process, many of the fire safety features that a completed building possesses may not be installed yet. It’s YOUR responsibility to inspect fire protection systems like smoke detectors and sprinkler systems or delegate them to a trusted safety manager. And before an employee even sets foot on the jobsite, you should provide training on safety equipment and procedures. Every employee should know the location of the nearest fire extinguisher and where to exit the building should a fire ignite. While it’s best to minimize structural damage, the worker’s safety should always come first, and by preparing them for emergency situations before they arise, you can ensure that every employee returns home safely.
Fire safety on the construction site has always been important on jobsites, and as extreme weather becomes more common, preparation will be paramount to prevent costly damage and loss of life. While training and equipment maintenance require heavy investments, the potential harm could be career-ending — or worse. When everyone pitches in to prevent job site fires, lives are saved.
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