Four key tips that can help significantly reduce the risk of construction site fires

In the U.S., a fire occurs at a building under construction every 90 minutes, on average, according to NFPA data. Construction sites are notoriously rife with fuel, including piles of trash and excess building materials. Combine that with no shortage of ignition sources, ranging from heating and cooking equipment to welding and other hot-work activities, as well as the fact that fire protection systems like sprinklers may not yet be active. These factors contribute to an environment primed for a devastating fire. But in most cases the risk for these fires can be reduced with the proper planning and provisions in place.

During a recent NFPA webinar, a panel of fire and life safety professionals discussed the factors that frequently contribute to construction site fires, offering key insights that can help minimize associated hazards and risks.

Create a fire safety plan

Having a fire prevention program is a central element of NFPA 241, Standard for Safeguarding Construction, Alteration, and Demolition Operations and is critical to ensuring safety. However, every building construction site is unique and presents its own set of challenges. No matter the scope of the job, there are different variables that can impact fire prevention and safety. Having a plan that spells out how these issues will be addressed and lays the groundwork for minimizing risks during each phase of the project.

It’s important to note that while NFPA 241 does not spell out all of the specifics of the fire prevention program; it does provide the framework for the project-specific information that a fire prevention plan must include, including the required provisions to ensure that everything on site is done correctly and safely.

Designate a fire prevention program manager

Designating a fire prevention program manager, or FPPM, who is responsible for carrying out and enforcing the plan and other applicable fire protection standards, is paramount to minimizing risk. But the FPPM is not a one size fits all role; the needed qualifications depend on the scope of the project. It’s the project owner’s responsibility to designate a FPPM and to remain involved in the project through completion, as the owner is ultimately responsible for loss prevention.

Anyone who wants to be more prepared and knowledgeable as an FPPM should get the needed training. NFPA 241 doesn’t prescribe specific qualifications needed to be an FPPM, but it generally covers the issues that an FPPM needs to speak to and their overall responsibilities and expectations. You may come from many different backgrounds with different knowledge bases, to serve in the FPPM role.

Understand construction site fire hazards

In order to reduce the risk of fire hazards at a construction site, it’s up to the FPPM to understand the leading causes of fires while a building is under construction, such as hot work and the accumulation of combustible wase, and the ways those hazards can be minimized. While an FPPM is sometimes perceived as creating hurdles that can slow down the construction process, by implementing the proper planning, many of those issues can be relieved.

Communicate with all parties

Communication among all parties is critical to the success of a project.  The more authorities having jurisdiction (AHJs) and all other parties communicate and collaborate, the more efficiently things can be accomplished.

The full webinar was held in April. Hosted by Matt Klaus, Director of Technical Services at NFPA, the discussion included the following participants: Jim Begley, PE, FSFPE, CFM, Principal at TERPconsulting; Matthew Bourque, PE, Director of Fire Protection and Construction Operations at WS Development; Dick Davis, PE, FSFPE, Sr Engineeering Technical Specialist at FM Global, AVP; and Nicholas Dawe, Division Chief/Fire Marshal at Cobb County Fire and Emergency Services.  The full discussion is available to listen to here.

In addition, NFPA offers a series of resources around buildings under construction, including a Construction Site Fire Safety Fact Sheet, to help contractors, building owners and managers, code officials and enforcers, and AHJs better understand the requirements and guidelines within NFPA 241, and to ensure that all parties involved in the construction process have the tools and support to adequately adhere to them.

Download the Construction Site Fire Safety Fact Sheet
Susan McKelvey
Communications Manager

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