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. 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.
Recent high-profile fires include the Glasgow School of Art’s Mackintosh building that 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 has 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 - singer Robbie Williams was among them.
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 responses to these and other large site fires, a number of guidance documents have been produced that address fire safety on construction sites:
- The Fire Protection Association's Fire prevention on construction sites.
- The HSE's Fire safety in construction (HSG168).
- CIBSE Guide E Fire Safety Engineering 2010.
Looking overseas to the USA there is a useful NFPA Standard, NFPA 241: Standard for Safeguarding Construction, Alteration, and Demolition Operations 2019 Edition that addresses in detail construction site fire safety.
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) have stated in 2010 that ‘large timber framed buildings under construction pose a significant risk to firefighters, construction workers and members of the public.'