Construction Fire Safety

| May 2, 2018

by Keith Flanders, P.E.

Construction Site – Wood Building / Photo by Cosentini Code Group

The building construction industry has recently generated a number of unfortunate headlines due to fires that occurred in wood-framed buildings. While discussions around the overall safety of wood construction may continue, measures for protection during construction can be implemented immediately to reduce the risk of these events occurring again.

Wood buildings are generally safe once the building is complete with all of the required fire protection features in place. However, these protection measures are not always active until the final days of construction. This leaves an extended time period in the construction process where a combustible building may be left unprotected.

Fires during construction not only are detrimental to the building owners and contractors but also impact others beyond the direct contributors. For example, firefighters are further exposed to the hazards of fighting a fire, of which the consequences could be life-threatening. Occupants planning to move in must find alternative accommodations when construction projects are delayed as a result of such fires. Occupants of adjacent properties may also be displaced during such events, creating undue stress upon the public. Insurance companies are also concerned with these fire hazards which may increase premiums and lead to even more expensive properties, as if it were not already expensive enough.

Common-practice safety features for construction sites include providing portable fire extinguishers, exit signs, and manual air horns for emergencies. Recent discussions within the construction industry recommend additional protection measures to increase safety at construction sites. The following features are being considered for implementation on construction projects (if they are not already included):

  • Heat detection throughout and fire alarm notification
  • Dry sprinkler systems
  • Advanced site security measures
  • Additional site inspections specifically for construction safety

In accordance with NFPA 1, Fire Code, procedures must be implemented to safeguard construction sites for life safety and property protection. The precise requirements for such protection are not necessarily prescribed since each and every project is unique and offers different challenges that may need to be specifically accounted for. However, NFPA 241, Standard for Safeguarding Construction, Alteration, and Demolition Operations, offers guidance on ways to implement such a plan and should be referenced for any construction project.
Owners and contractors alike must continue to place an emphasis on construction fire safety which requires a more proactive than reactive approach. This includes developing a pre-fire plan to ensure the fire department has sufficient access and information when arriving on-site. On-site personnel must be briefed regularly on the importance of fire safety and how they can help mitigate the risk. It is also prudent to conduct regular walkthroughs of a construction site with the emphasis being on fire safety and not just the progress of construction.

Consequently, construction fire safety continues to be an ever-evolving practice that must take into consideration the value added by particular protection measures compared to the overall cost added to a construction project. The risk of construction fires is omnipresent and can lead to catastrophic events, needlessly risking the lives and general welfare of firefighters, construction workers, and the public.

 

Keith Flanders/ photo Bryce Vickmark

Keith Flanders, P.E. is a Senior Fire / Life Safety Engineer and Code Consultant at Cosentini Associates.

 

 

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