A fire can quickly spread on a construction site, not only due to the types of material that is normally on a construction site but also keep in mind that the risk of fires can increase during the winter months. Fires caused on constructions sites may result in employees getting injured or the site being destroyed. 

The Fire Triangle

It is important to understand the elements of a fire and how it works. A fire has three elements: oxygen, heat, and fuel. These three elements are combined and create a chemical reaction that results in a fire. This is known as the fire triangle. 

If one of these elements is taken away from the triangle the fire will cease to exist, or fire will be extinguished. 

Fire Precautions on Construction Sites

According to the Occupational Health & Safety Regulations Act No. 85 22nd Edition – Construction Regulations, the contractor is responsible to make sure that all appropriate measures are in place and taken to avoid the risk of a fire on site. In addition, the contractor must make sure that the site is in compliance with the Environmental Regulations for Workplaces, 1987. 

Let’s take a look at some of the actions that must be in place on a construction site to avoid any incidence. Firstly, if there are flammable liquids, solids, or grease present on-site, suitable and sufficient storage must be provided. This is required so that these materials are not obscuring the employees’ work area. 

Secondly, smoking is prohibited on-site, and notices should be prominently displayed in all places containing readily combustible or flammable materials. A lit cigarette bud can easily cause a fire on-site; therefore, it is crucial that no smoking takes place on a construction site. 

Confined spaces on their own are already considered a high-risk activity, confined spaces and other places in which flammable gases, vapours or dust can cause danger should be monitored closely and the following protocols must be in place. Only suitable protected electrical installations and equipment, including portable lights, must be used when work is performed in these spaces. If applicable, no flames or similar means of ignition should not be present in these types of spaces. The contractor is responsible for immediately removing any oily rags, waste, or any other substances liable to ignite in confined spaces on site. And finally, adequate ventilation must be provided in these spaces. 

Any hot works that are required to be performed on-site such as welding, flame-cutting, or any other categories of hot works, are only permitted once the appropriate precautions have been taken to reduce any fire risk. 

Fire Equipment & Training

Having the correct fire equipment on a construction site can save the lives of the site workers. According to the Construction Regulations, section 29 (g), it is required that suitable and sufficient fire-extinguishing equipment is placed at static locations on site. Alternatively, locations may be recommended by the Fire Chief or local authority concerned. It is also stated that all fire equipment is well maintained and in good working conditions, the fire equipment should be inspected by a competent person at least once a month. This person is required to be appointed in writing, in the manner indicated by the manufacture of the equipment. 

Often employees do not know to use a fire extinguisher or other fire equipment, therefore it is important to have a sufficient number of workers trained and make sure that they are familiar with the use of fire-extinguishing equipment. For more information on how to properly use a fire extinguisher, take a look at our Toolbox Talk:

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Signage & Evacuation

In case of a fire, signage (where appropriate) should always be visible to clearly indicate an escape route on site. These escape routes must be always kept clear so that employees’ means of escape are not obscured by any obstacles when a fire breaks out. 

When a fire does occur on a construction site, the following procedures are to follow; all personnel should evacuate the premises speedily and without panic to the nearest assembly point, all persons to be accounted for and the plant or processes on-site to be shut down. It is also required that a siren is installed and sounded in the event of a fire.  Having these procedures in place can reduce critical injuries or avoiding any fires to break out or spreading at all on construction sites. Health and Safety procedures are required to have in place as it does not only protect the workers from injuries but also help improve productivity and quality of work. 

If you would like more information or hear more about how we can help, contact us and let us put our combined 267 years of experience to work for you.

Christof Lourens

CEO Cairnmead Industrial Consultants (Pty) Ltd

Tel: 012 346 5752 | Email: christof@cairnmead.co.za

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