The world has seen the devastating effects of fire on construction sites. Only two years ago, the world watched on as the famous spire of the Notre Dame Cathedral in Paris burned during construction works and was destroyed. Only six months later, the New Zealand International Convention Centre ignited while under construction. These incidents, alongside many others, draw needed attention to the effects of fire damage on construction sites.
For a flame to start, three components are required: heat (ignition), fuel, and oxygen. All these components are easily found on construction sites. Ignition can come in the form of hot lighting, machinery or tools, heaters, and sparks or naked flames. Fuel sources found on construction sites may include rubbish, packing materials and machinery fuel, such as that used in construction plant.
Replacing or repairing components of a construction site can be costly, both in terms of margins and operations. To avoid expensive replacements and repairs, construction operations must invest in both preparing for fires and devices to help prevent them.
Preparing for fires
The main aim in general fire precautions is to ensure each person on site reaches safety in the event of a blaze. A means of escape should be a daily consideration in fast moving projects. The term general fire precaution (GFP) pertains to structural features and equipment required to achieve this aim. GFP includes escape routes, exits, fire-fighting equipment, raising the alarm, making emergency plans, and limiting the spread of fire.
It should be taken into account that during the course of construction, escape routes may become unavailable. In this case, alternative routes should be provided as early as possible. In construction of new buildings, the escape routes used for the eventual occupiers should be installed as early as possible. Further, there should be at least two escape routes in different directions. All routes should lead to an unenclosed open air space at ground level, where people can assemble and be accounted for. Furthermore, GFP should consider the need for emergency lighting, emergency signs, and training for all workers for whom English is not their first language on what the signs represent.
Fire-fighting equipment, including extinguishers, should be used for tackling blazes to stop them from becoming larger or to help individuals escape. It is important for everyone on site to understand that putting out larger flames is the role of the emergency services and not that of those working on site. On larger sites or sites with a higher fire risk, a fire marshal or warden may be appointed to check that GFPs are adequate and liaise with the emergency services upon arrival.
On sites with high fire risk, it is pertinent to look into devices to minimise the risk of ignition. For many, the idea is to minimise damage to particular assets that may prove costly to repair or replace. A range of equipment exists to aid the suppression of fire, particularly in the plant machinery sector.
All plant machinery can pose a fire risk on site. Engine fires in construction plant can be fast to spread and hard to detect. These types of fire are near impossible to tackle with a portable fire extinguisher. To avoid the devastation of a fire breaking out and quickly developing in intensity, fire suppression systems for machinery engines have become a necessity. Engine fire suppression systems help to minimise the risk of fire. These systems can detect and tackle fires that break out in machinery engines within seconds.
There are a multitude of fire suppression systems for construction plant available on the market. On top of this, not all systems employ the same method of suppression. Some, such as those manufactured by Fogmaker International, utilise high-pressure water mist. This form of fire suppression is effective as high-pressure water mist cools the engine quickly while displacing oxygen. The water mist can cool an engine by around 700°C within 10 seconds. A decrease in the oxygen level occurs due to water evaporating into steam. A small amount of foam additive prevents hydro-carbon vapours from re-igniting.
Alternatively, AFFF Foam (aqueous film-forming foam) can be used. AFFF is designed to seal and quickly suppress spill fires, often involving fuels such as gasoline, kerosene and diesel. Companies such as Fireward supply those working with construction plant, such as rental companies and owner operators, with AFFF Foam based suppression systems.
Whichever system a company chooses to look into, suppressing blazes as soon as they occur can save a company costly losses in time, finances and personnel. It is important to remember that fire is a major risk in construction. Anything that can be done to prevent the devastation caused by its effects should be undertaken.