Construction site fire safety
The UK government and the Health and Safety Executive (HSE) statistics show that the loss of life on a construction site due to fire is rare. The majority of deaths on construction sites are caused by falling from height followed by being struck by objects/vehicles and contact with electricity.
However, construction site fires have resulted in substantial fire losses over the last 25 years. Home Office statistics for fires on construction sites in England (2014–2019) show the following numbers:
Number of construction site fires
High-profile fires at London’s Minster Court and Broadgate Phase 8 accounted for £138.5 million of the £143 million total for fire losses on construction sites between 1984 and 1991 in the UK.
Other high-profile fires include the Glasgow School of Art’s Mackintosh building, which was completely gutted by fire in June 2018. As the Mackintosh library had been almost destroyed by fire in May 2014, a new sprinkler system had been added; however, the sprinkler system was not fully fitted at the time of the fire.
Over 120 firefighters tackled a fire at the five-star Mandarin Oriental hotel in June 2018. The hotel had just announced the completion of a multimillion-dollar renovation project. There were no reports of injuries and a total of 36 hotel guests and 250 members of hotel staff were safely evacuated.
In April 2019, the Notre Dame cathedral suffered a serious fire. It was undergoing renovation at the time and fire investigators unofficially stated they were 'considering theories involving malfunction of electric bell-ringing apparatus, and cigarette butts discovered on the renovation scaffolding'.
In January 2020, the Koko music venue in Camden suffered a large fire during renovation work. Eight fire engines and around 60 firefighters attended.
In response to these and other large site fires, a number of guidance documents have been produced that address fire safety on construction sites:
- CIBSE Guide E Fire Safety Engineering 2019
- The Fire Protection Association's Fire prevention on construction sites
- The HSE's Fire safety in construction (HSG168) 2022 (3rd edition).
In the USA there is a useful NFPA Standard: NFPA 241: Standard for Safeguarding Construction, Alteration, and Demolition Operations 2022 edition, which addresses construction site fire safety in detail.
The introduction of modern construction methods including large timber-framed structures has also resulted in significant fires under construction including Peckham, Camberwell and Basingstoke which all resulted in fire damage to adjacent buildings. The Chief Fire Officers Association (CFOA) stated in 2010 that ‘large timber framed buildings under construction pose a significant risk to firefighters, construction workers and members of the public.'