Fire Safety: Reducing the Sources of Ignition and Fuel

HSE estimates there is, on average, one fire each working hour on construction sites in the UK, ranging from small ‘flare-ups’ to large blazes requiring multiple fire appliances to control.

As with everything, prevention is better than cure, and the JCoP and HSE Fire Safety in Construction publications go into a lot of detail on how to reduce the sources of ignition and fuel on-site. We also have free downable resources that cover this information.

Read on for an overview of the main things you need to remember to limit the possibility of a fire breaking out on your construction site…

Reducing the Sources of Ignition & Fuel on Site


Fire Risk Assessment: Reduce Sources of Ignition & Fuel
  • Your FRA will help you to identify what hazards you have on-site and therefore what precautions and rules you need to make
  • Current UK legislation requires a ‘No Smoking’ policy on construction sites
  • Designated open-air smoking areas should be of low fire risk design
  • On very high-risk sites, increased policing and controls will  be needed to reflect the increase in the potential for a fire to start
  • All workers and visitors should have the smoking rules brought to their attention
Plant & Equipment
  • Equipment should be appropriate for the task and it’s working location (consider ventilation/fumes/obstruction of escape routes)
  • Storage and maintenance of equipment is important, to prevent overheating etc
  • Consider where equipment is operated and refuelled, for example only refuel in well-ventilated or open-air locations, never on escape routes or scaffold
  • Bulk flammable fuel should be stored in bunded tanks
  • Operation of petrol/diesel equipment in confined areas can lead to carbon monoxide build-up, so consider electric alternatives
Electrical Equipment
  • Maintenance of temporary lighting is important as they can become an ignition source if damaged
  • Never cover electrical equipment
  • Ensure equipment is cleared of dust (especially vents) before use
  • Recharging of electrical equipment should take place away from ignition sources
  • In areas with a potentially flammable atmosphere (eg fuel storage or when floor laying or paint spraying) ensure electrical equipment is of correct standard (use ATEX 94/9/EC or equivalent explosion protection standard)
Electrical Installations
  • Should be suited to task, and designed, installed, inspected and maintained by competent personnel
  • Should meet BS 7671:2008
  • Risks to consider include: using twin and earth cable instead of flex for extension leads; overriding safety devices such as fuses; overloading sockets
Flammable Liquids/Gases
  • Areas with an explosive atmosphere (spray painting/flammable liquid storage etc) have to be classified into hazardous ‘zones’ and the correct category of explosion-protected equipment used
  • Find more information on Zoning in HSG140 notes (The Safe Use & Handling of Flammable Liquids)
Oxy-Fuel Equipment
  • This should only be used by competent workers
  • HSG139 provides detailed guidance
  • Ensure you use the correct colour-coded hoses, non-return valves etc
Hot Work: Permit-to-Work (PTW) Systems
  • The level of system required is dependent on the risks involved
  • A PTW is a formal system to prevent fire risks and should only be issued by those with assigned authority
  • Points laid out must be complied with before the permit is issued
  • A PTW is specific to task location and period of time: it is not a blanket permit for Hot Work anywhere on site
  • These should be avoided unless absolutely necessary (eg on major road construction clearing)
  • Approval must be given by clients and any relevant authorities
  • If permitted, a FRA be in place and also a permit system
  • Fire size must be limited, eg in a properly designed incinerator
  • Fires must never be left unattended
  • Bonfires must be located away from any areas at risk of catching alight
  • Contents of the fire must be checked before lighting
Arson & Site Security
  • Arson can be a substantial problem on construction sites
  • Trespassers should be prevented from gaining access
  • Flammable liquids and combustible material should be securely stored when the site is closed
  • Consideration should be give to the site location and any history of arson in the vicinity
  • Consider using patrols, security lighting, CCTV and liason with the police
  • Skips are often targetted
  • Procedures should be in place for when a fire is detected
  • Site employees can be responsible, so be aware
Dangerous Substances & Explosive Atmospheres Regulations 2002 (DSEAR)
  • DSEAR put duties on the employers and the self-employed to protect people from fires, explosions and similar events in the workplace. This includes members for the public who may be  endangered by work activity
  • Action Points:
  • Find out what dangerous substances are in the workplace and what the fire and explosion risks are
  • Put control measures in place to remove or reduce these risks and put controls in place to reduce the effects of any incidents
  • Draw up procedures to deal with incidents involving dangerous substances – ensure employees are properly trained to control or deal with the risks from any dangerous substances on site
  • Identify and classify areas of the workplace where explosive atmospheres may occur and avoid ignition sources in those areas (eg from unprotected equipment)
Combustible Materials – Handling & Storage
  • Be aware that nominally flame-retardant materials can become flammable when in dust or fine material form
  • Store flammable materials (eg LPG) outdoors in a secure compound (see HSG168 for detailed guidance)
  • If an internal store is necessary, they should be constructed with 30 minutes fire resistance
  • Ensure paint or flammable liquid stores are not on emergency routes or near fire exits
  • Store access should be controlled to prevent materials getting spread around the site
  • Avoid using acetylene if possible, due to its high flammability
  • Strict storage, usage and transportation regulations apply – see HSG168 for guidance
  • Acetylene must only be used by competent workers
Protective Coatings & Scaffold Nets
  • Protective coverings over finished surfaces should be flame retardant material
  • All scaffold wrapping and netting should  be flame retardant
Rubbish Disposal
  • The Environment Agency enforce the rules for Site Waste Management Plans Regulations
  • The fire risk of all waste produced should be considered when writing the plans
  • Rules must be set and adhered to for the location and disposal of rubbish and skips

Please remember that the list above is a (comparatively!) brief interpretation of the JCoP. For full information, please refer to the full documents, using the links below:

JCoP 9th Edition: Fire Prevention on Construction Sites

HSG168: Fire Safety in Construction

HSG139: The Safe Use of Compressed Gases in Welding, Flame Cutting and Allied Processes

HSG140: Safe Use and Handling of Flammable Liquids

Dangerous Substances and Explosive Atmospheres Regulations 2002 (DSEAR)

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