It’s no secret that construction sites are well known to be hazardous environments; there is a lot that can go wrong! With machinery, materials and working height issues, it can sometimes be easy to forget that fire is still a very significant risk, especially if the building’s fire safety measures have not yet in situ – therefore, having a proper fire health and safety plan is key to running a secure and successful construction site.
Every fire prevention plan should include these essential steps:
Assign a responsible person
The employer has a legal responsibility to make sure their workplace is safe, just as every worker has the right to raise health and safety concerns to the relevant authority. Thus, health and safety should be in the interest of both parties.
The same laws not only apply to employers but also to the self-employed, contractors and building owners. In case there is more than one responsible person, cooperation is necessary to comply with regulations.
Once a responsible person is identified, they need to assure that everyone on the premises, whether it’s an employee, a visitor, or a member of the public, must be able to escape safely.
The responsible person should address all problems immediately, but most importantly:
- Ensure a fire risk assessment is carried out
- Take into account those particularly at risk, such as people with a disability or special needs
- Make sure people working with dangerous substances are trained properly
- Check whether a fire safety policy is in place
- Install general fire precautions and principles of fire prevention ASAP
Conduct a fire risk assessment
A professional fire risk assessment is key to identifying every potential hazard. A company might believe they are ready for fires, but only a thorough inspection can truly evaluate the current state.
The responsible person needs to make sure that:
- The assessment is carried out by someone competent. Their capability must be assured. Otherwise, you might be liable in case of an accident (even if an assessment had been carried out).
- They know what to do with the findings. Any significant findings will have to be recorded and taken care off immediately
Verify and communicate safety precautions
After the audit has identified all potential hazards, it is time to make sure precautions are in place which tackle all issues.
Typically, those will include:
- Structural and passive fire protection: This means installing fire doors and walls, structural steel protection, fire and smoke curtains, cavity fire barriers, and so on. Keeping fire extinguishers close to potentially dangerous areas, such as welding work stations, will help workers to react more quickly.
- Identifying dangerous materials: is very important to keep the risk of explosions and such to a minimum. Combustible and toxic gas detection systems will alert employees to when they need to stop working.
- Fire alarm and detection systems: Knowing where to install them and which system is appropriate for the building is very important.
- Fire escape routes: There are many factors to consider, such as how quickly the fire could be detected and how fast it might grow, how it could affect the escape routes and when people in the building are likely to respond to an alarm.
- Emergency lightning: Depending on the size of the building, self-contained emergency lights or central systems might be more effective.
- Installing signs and fire-fighting equipment: This will include fire extinguishers, sprinkler systems, foam systems, kitchen fire suppression systems, and so on.
Once precautions are in place, they will need to be maintained. All equipment and protective measures must be safe, reliable, efficient and ready for use at all times. A good option to keep track and make sure no areas get skipped is by having a detailed checklist.
Most importantly, everyone in the site needs to be trained on how to react in case of an emergency. Running tests of the fire detection and alarm system regularly is necessary to ensure that everyone is always up to date. Posting an emergency action plan that is easily accessible will help make sure that everyone knows what to do.
Non-compliance can not only lead to expensive breaching fees but will cost lives. A thorough fire safety plan – and the appropriate maintaining of it – can protect employers and employees alike. Putting these practices to use will make life easier on both sides.
Train your employees
While there’s still so much more that can be covered, at the end of the day it is absolutely essential that all employees recognise hazards and are trained to perform the work and use the equipment, machinery and tool required. As the construction industry utilises a wide array of equipment, there’s a chance that new employees may not be familiar with them all. Follow best practice to ensure that they are appropriately qualified and trained to use them properly before authorising any work.
For industry guidelines, you can refer to the HSE Fire, Explosion and Risk Assessment Strategy.