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Buildings being newly constructed or renovated are not exempt from the potential for property loss. This is especially true during the winter months when there can be an increase in the use of temporary heating devices, snow and ice accumulation on roofs, combustible or flammable materials being stored indoors and trespassers seeking shelter.
Temporary heaters are frequently used during colder weather. Every year, fires are a result of these heaters being misused. Many of these fires could have been prevented by purchasing the correct type of heater, preparing the area where the heater was intended to be used and using the heater properly.
There are many different types and models of temporary heaters used in the construction industry. When purchasing or renting a temporary heater, the heater, as well as the components of the heater, should carry the Underwriters Laboratories listed label. Temporary heaters also should have standard safety controls, such as high-temperature cut-outs, flame supervision, flame failure and preset safety regulators, to name a few. In addition, heaters, whether owned or rented, should be inspected, tested and repaired if needed, prior to operating.
When constructing or renovating buildings, combustible or flammable building materials, such as wood forms, paints, boxes of materials and carpeting, are typically present. Before installing and using a temporary heater, any combustible or flammable materials should be removed from the area. Also, the heater should be placed on a non-combustible floor and should be properly secured to reduce the potential for tipping over. Temporary heaters should also be periodically inspected by a qualified person to ensure that combustible materials have not been placed near the heater and that the heater is still properly secured. They also should be maintained and used according to the manufacturer’s guidelines.
Many construction companies increase fire loading when they store construction materials inside buildings (wanting to protect the materials from inclement weather and theft). Such temporary storage arrangements increase the potential severity of a fire that may develop. Arrangements should be made to limit the amount of combustible storage within buildings (e.g., adding off-site storage areas).
A building under construction or renovation may be enticing to someone who is looking for shelter. In addition to the potential for vandalism, trespassers may ignite materials to provide heat within the structure. Considerations for site security should be in place. These considerations should include, but not be limited to, lighting and fencing around the job site, locking the job site during off hours and using a security or guard service with periodic documented rounds.
Roofs and supporting structures are vulnerable to damage and collapse – particularly during the winter months. This is typically due to the buildup of snow, as well as rain and ice. During the winter season, it is common for temporary heaters to be used during construction work hours. It also is common to discontinue their use during off hours or in the evening. This heating and cooling cycle essentially melts the snow during the day and then allows for it to refreeze at night. Over a period of time, this can cause ice to build up – blocking roof drains and creating additional weight on the roof. This could exceed the roof’s loading capacity causing significant damage to the roof and support structures. Special considerations should be made to maintain roof drains and locate them in lower points of the roof area. A plan should be implemented to determine specific action to take when the snow reaches a predetermined amount. Special attention also should be given to adjoining roofs with different elevations, where snow may drift and accumulate, exceeding the snow load design of the roof. Additional roof supports may be needed in those areas.
Winter months present a number of potential loss exposures to buildings under construction or renovation. Pre-planning, understanding wintertime exposures and implementing protective strategies may assist in reducing the likelihood of property damage.