Construction is one of the largest sectors of the UK economy. It contributes almost £90 billion to the UK economy (or 6.7%) in value added, comprises over 280,000 businesses covering some 2.93 million jobs, which is equivalent to about 10% of total UK employment.
A number of high profile hotel fires have led to significant fines and prosecutions and changes in the way in which construction fire safety is managed.
In a recent 10-year period, statistics from insurance companies show that there were 108 major fires on construction sites, costing the insurers — and therefore construction companies via their premiums — £187.3m, an average loss of £1.7m. In the same period, accidents while carrying out hot works caused 164 major fires, resulting in total losses of £69.8m. Of course, the costs of lost employment, damage to nearby businesses and homes, loss of our heritage and contamination to our environment adds to the overall cost.
Specific regulations and guidance exist to make construction activities safe.
The Construction (Design and Management) Regulations 2007 (CDM) also place duties on duty holders in relation to fire safety.
HSG168 Fire safety in construction provides guidance for clients, designers and those managing and carrying out construction work involving significant fire risks.
In 1992 the Fire Protection Association and the Building Employers Confederation (which later became the Construction Confederation, and is now the Contractors’ Legal Group), along with the support of other bodies, including the Association of British Insurers (ABI), London Fire Brigade and the Chief Fire Officers Association, published the first edition of the Joint Code of Practice for Fire Prevention on Construction Sites. Since then, the code has been developed and expanded and now, with the publication of the 7th edition in 2009, it has the full support of the industry.
These and other documents are taken into account in UK Fire Training courses for this sector.
The nature of construction sites gives rise to a very wide range of often unique ignition sources. These include;
Smokers’ material, eg cigarettes, matches and lighters
Naked flames, eg gas- or liquid-fuelled open-flame equipment
Plant and equipment, eg fuel and vehicle exhausts;
Poor electrical installations, eg overloads, heating from bunched cables and/or damaged cable;
Hot processes/hot work, eg welding by contractors;
Light fittings and lighting equipment, eg temporary lighting, halogen lamps too close to stored products;
Electrical, gas- or oil-fired heaters (fixed or portable), room heaters in temporary office accommodation or welfare cabins;
Friction-generated heat from mechanical equipment such as disc cutters;
Spontaneous ignition and self-heating, eg oil-soaked rags, paint scrapings;
Many materials which can burn have to be used during construction work.
Components of the structure itself such as some composite panels and timber
Stored/in-use building products such as composite panels and timber;
Flammable liquids such as paints and varnishes;
Volatile flammable substances such as paints, thinners;
Fuel for portable equipment;
Liquefied petroleum gas (LPG), eg bitumen boilers,
Temporary site accommodation and similar areas;
CONSTRUCTION FIRE EXAMPLES
Large construction site fire in Southampton city centre 'an accident'
A large fire on a construction site in Southampton was caused by workers "inadvertently" igniting roofing material, the fire service has said.
Around 70 people were evacuated from the partially constructed student halls of residence on Commercial Road in the city centre just before midday.
Hampshire Fire & Rescue confirmed the accidental fire caused two explosions.
Around 85 firefighters dealt with the fire at Block B of Mayflower Halls, which was due to house about 1,000 University of Southampton students from the autumn.
Following an investigation, Hampshire Fire & Rescue incident commander Jerry Leonard said workers "were doing some work on the roof of the building and, unfortunately, inadvertently set fire to some of the building material they were using".
He added one explosion was caused by a small propane gas cylinder and the other by a fire extinguisher workers initially used to tackle the blaze.
Firefighters tackle Basingstoke construction site fire
More than 100 firefighters and 12 specialist support vehicles have been tackling a major fire which broke out at a building site in Hampshire.
At its height the timber-framed block of flats on Gershwin Road, Basingstoke, was "in danger of total collapse", a fire service spokesman said.
Crews from Hampshire, Surrey and Berkshire were involved and six people had to be moved from their homes.
The spokesman said the building, 100 metres (328ft) by 200 (656ft), was well alight when crews arrived shortly before 1830 on Friday.
"I saw that smoke had blotted out the sun. There were flames high above the trees.” Said an eyewitness.
"Debris which was on fire soon started raining down on the onlookers and houses nearby, apparently the debris spread on the wind and fell in the town centre."
"When these buildings catch fire the actual structure burns. It often leads to total collapse and that puts the safety of our firefighters at risk." said, Hampshire Fire and Rescue Service chief officer John Bonney.
He added that fire spread was a major concern at the incident, and that the Chief Fire Officers Association "was right to be increasingly concerned about the number and severity of fires in timber framed buildings under construction".