Fire is one of the biggest risks on a construction site due to techniques needed to erect a structure and make it useful. Many tasks require the use of heat in the form of a flame or electrical voltage, installation of electrical wiring comes with a risk of a stray spark setting off a fire, and necessary chemicals for a process have the potential to explode and start a fire. Prevention is key to maintaining safety on a job site and making sure everyone goes home at night in one piece. Following are six common causes of fires and explosion injuries on a worksite and how to prevent them.
1. Human Error and Negligence
People make mistakes, get distracted, or simply don’t care enough to put in the effort to do their job right. A smoker may decide that their cigarette butt poses no threat to the nearby pile of chemicals or trash, or they may not be aware of the risk of leaving a space heater on in an enclosed space that’s full of combustible fumes. These and other situations that lead to a workplace fire may seem like they’re avoidable through common sense. Unfortunately, common sense isn’t always that common.
Make use of safety checklist apps for supervisors and employees. Have everyone look at the list and sign off on it before they start work for the day. Raising awareness of conditions on the worksite goes a long way towards reducing accidents that happen as a result of negligence and human error.
Unfortunately, there are individuals who like to set things on fire and watch the results of their handiwork. They find construction sites appealing because there’s less risk of hurting someone and maximum odds for a good fire due to the nature of the materials used in construction. A construction site usually has ideal conditions for an arsonist to set up and not be observed as they prepare.
Building regulations typically require that a fire alarm system has to be installed on a construction site. Look for a system that works with smartphone apps and has video cameras to help with the detection of unusual activity and can detect a fire in its early stages.
3. Garbage and Clutter
There’s no denying that a construction site produces a lot of trash. Pallet wrappings, paper bags, pieces of cut wood, and discarded cans that held paint or chemicals are left around the site. These things happen because the workers are in the middle of a task and can’t always stop what they’re doing to throw away the garbage generated by their work. Sometimes they leave the clutter where it fell and give a stray spark an opportune place to land and set the pile ablaze.
Enforce rules for proper clearing and cleaning of the job site every day. Consider using an app that broadcasts cleaning reminders to employees no matter where they are on the site and encourage putting down tools to do a check for trash lying around.
4. Store Combustibles Properly
Volatile chemicals require proper storage when not in use to prevent fumes from building up. There’s also the risk of leaks and spills if the containers aren’t closed and stacked according to the storage instructions on the label. Sometimes all it takes to get a large explosion is to have a meeting between a small leak from a container and a spark from a nearby welding operation. This is something that is preventable when people take the time to put things where they belong after they’re done using them.
Make sure that the correct storage containers are in use on the site for the volatile chemicals that are in use. Have a check-in and -out system in place for the most dangerous chemicals along with assigning responsibility for their return by the person who checked them out. Store the chemicals in an area of the site that is kept clear for a defined radius and offers the most protection from a fire or explosion.
5. Responsible Use of Space Heaters
When the weather gets cold and the work goes indoors, space heaters are a necessity to keep people warm while they work. But space heaters and volatile chemicals don’t work well together. Fumes from the chemicals can build up in the room quietly and without much notice by the workers. If someone turns on a space heater, they can cause those fumes to ignite and burn the surrounding materials along with causing harm to those in the space.
Avoid this scenario by using proper ventilation for the chemicals and make sure employees have the correct safety training in the use of the materials. Make use of gas detectors, either mounted or hand-held, to determine if vapors have dissipated to safe levels or not.
Sometimes it’s necessary to leave a space heater on overnight. And sometimes people forget to turn off the heater when they leave for the day. Use ground fault circuit interrupters on electrical heaters and inform the fire department that gas-powered heaters are in use on the site.
6. Contain Sparks and Ignition Sources
Welders are a common sight on construction sites and a stray spark from one has the potential to start fires. All it takes is one spark from a welding job to bounce and land in a pile of discarded wood or trash can to get a fire started. Sometimes it can take a while for the fire to start and there’s a risk that the fire gets going after everyone’s left the site for the day. Put in a safety protocol for welding that the area has to be free and clear of all debris, trash cans, and flammables before work is started. Make sure the welders have the appropriate equipment to contain sparks and keep a fire extinguisher within easy access at all times. Welders typically have their own safety gear, but keeping extra personal protective equipment available in case personal gear gets damaged will help with maintaining safety. Grant someone the authority to enforce the safety protocol and have them check the area regularly for compliance.