Author(s): Angelo Verzoni. Published on February 22, 2023.


Danger: Construction 

The first in a new series of NFPA webinars will tackle the issue of fires in buildings under construction 



Each year in the United States, fire departments respond to an average of 4,300 fires in buildings under construction, according to a report released by NFPA in October 2022. That’s nearly a dozen such fires every day. The economic impact of these blazes is significant, with an average annual estimate of over $375 million in direct property damages. 

The simple truth is that construction sites are prone to fires. Fuel loads that can include scrap materials and sawdust combine with ignition sources such as sparks from hot work and cooking equipment to make construction activities a hazard. In fact, cooking equipment is the leading cause of fires in buildings under construction, according to the NFPA report. 

An important tool for mitigating the fire hazards of construction sites is NFPA 241, Standard for Safeguarding Construction, Alteration, and Demolition Operations. Although NFPA 241 has existed for more than 80 years and is referenced in two of NFPA’s most widely used codes—NFPA 1, Fire Code, and NFPA 101®, Life Safety Code®—experts say it’s a document that still has the potential to be used much more widely. NFPA also offers additional resources, such as online trainings, to help create safer construction sites.
On March 21, from 1-2 p.m., NFPA will host a webinar on construction site fire safety to help raise awareness of these resources. The webinar is the first in a series of four planned for 2023. Each webinar will focus on a different topic.





‘A vulnerable point’  

While the number of fires in buildings under construction declined between 2008 and 2010, NFPA data shows that they have been steadily rising since 2014. Some policymakers and fire service professionals have speculated that this could be due to a boom in wood-frame construction for large, multifamily dwellings over the past decade or so. But there have been many examples of non-wood-frame buildings under construction burning, too, and experts say building materials alone don’t change the risk of a fire starting. 

“Construction is a vulnerable point in any building’s life cycle,” said Jon Hart, a technical lead at NFPA. “There can be a lot going on, such as welding and other hot work activities or the use of cooking equipment by workers. In addition to that, you can have piles of combustible debris and fire protection systems that aren’t fully operable yet. All of this creates an environment where fires can start, so it’s critical for building owners, construction companies, and authorities having jurisdiction to ensure proper safety plans and procedures are in place for any project.” 
These plans have to also adapt to the ever-changing environment of a construction site, Hart added. “Fire prevention programs have to span the entire life cycle of a construction project because hazards will change as different construction activities are performed, the building increases in size or height, different structural elements are installed, and different equipment is brought in,” he said.  

The March 21 webinar will feature experts from NFPA and beyond who will discuss the challenges that typically exist on construction sites and what resources NFPA offers to help address those challenges. 

In addition to NFPA 241, the organization offers a Fire Prevention Program Manager (FPPM) Online Training Series. Launched in 2021, the FPPM training helps close a gap that had previously existed. While NFPA 241 had long required construction projects to have a fire prevention program and designated FPPM to enforce that program, up until the release of the training there was no way of ensuring FPPMs were knowledgeable enough to do the job. 

Fire Prevention Program Manager Online Training Series
Construction Site Fire Safety Fundamentals Online Training
NFPA 241 Online Training Series
NFPA 70E®, Standard for Electrical Safety in the Workplace®, Online Training Series
Hot Work Safety Training Certificate Online Training (also available in Spanish)

At a summit on construction site fire safety hosted by the Boston Fire Department (BFD) in December, Boston Fire Marshal Joseph Shea shared stories of interacting with FPPMs in the past who seemed to have little knowledge of fire safety. “In my year-and-a-half tenure as fire marshal in the city of Boston, I have found a pervasive culture of ignorance of the codes, complacency, and contractors willing to roll the dice, hoping not to get caught,” Shea said. “This mindset has to stop. There is a need to take this more seriously.” As of January of this year, any FPPM in Boston has to have completed the NFPA online training series. 

Visit for the latest information about the upcoming March webinar, as well as the remaining 2023 quarterly webinars as information becomes available.

ANGELO VERZONI is the content marketing manager at NFPA. Follow him on Twitter @angelo_verzoni. Top photograph via Unsplash