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Fire protection during construction. Are you taking the correct steps?

By Kody Williams, Sr. Risk Control Consultant

Construction fires can result in significant loss. In the past month there have been major fires at construction projects. While the root causes of the fires have not been released, a common source of ignition is from hot work.  Are you taking the correct steps to help prevent fires from hot work on one of your projects?

According to the census of Fatal Occupational Injuries charts from 1992-2007, fires and explosions accounted for 3 percent of workplace fatalities. What are you doing ahead of time to help minimize your risk from fire and explosion? How are you storing combustible and flammable materials on projects? How about hot work? Most construction projects conduct some type of hot work at some point in the project. Hot work can consist of welding, cutting, open flame soldering, hot riveting, spark producing tools, brazing and grinding. OSHA 1926.150 directs that each employer shall be responsible for the development of a fire protection plan throughout all phases of construction.

Employers should be addressing fire-related hazards at the beginning of the project. One method to identify hazards is the utilization of Pre-Task Analysis. Pre-Task Analysis can help identify hazards and controls needed. Construction projects are vulnerable throughout the building process when combustible materials, flammable liquids, gases and hot work are present on the project. Construction workers should address flammable materials are stored during construction. Also, it should be determined what fire protection means are available during hot work. To promote fire safety at the work site:

  • Develop hot work policies
  • Develop a hot work permit system
  • Provide an adequate water supply when conducting hot work
  • Provide fire extinguishers and space them properly
  • Inspect and maintain fire extinguishers
  • Provide designated smoking areas
  • Maintain good housekeeping; don’t leave debris in the vicinity of hot work
  • Have an emergency action plan in place

Exposure to fires in construction can impact construction companies in many ways. Repairing a damaged structure can be extremely costly. But business interruption costs can be even greater. Also, if employees are injured that can send the costs even higher  and result in the potential loss of your most valuable assets – your employees. Don’t forget about adjacent structures. If they are damaged, the costs can increase even further. Damaged equipment and materials also can add to the cost of a loss.

Construction entities should have policies in place to help minimize their hot work exposures. One of the most significant components of the policy should be a fire watch during and after the hot work being performed. Travelers Risk Control recommends keeping your fire watch on hand for at least 30 minutes once hot work is complete. The Travelers Risk Control Customer Portal has many resources available about fire protection in the workplace. The Travelers Risk Control Customer Portal has many resources available about fire protection in the workplace, including a webinar replay titled Hot Work – Where is the Industry Failing? Log in to the Risk Control Customer Portal to view this and other fire protection materials.

Training should be conducted with employees regarding hot work procedures to address how exposures and controls may differ throughout different phases of the project. The Fire Protection and Prevention standard for construction under Federal OSHA is 1926 Subpart F, and many resources regarding hot work procedures for the construction industry can be found  on OSHA’s website at osha.gov/SLTC/firesafety/index.html.

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