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Safety On Site: The Impact Of Construction On Fire Risk

So what exactly is a construction site? Put simply, anywhere construction work is being carried out.

And what constitutes construction work? [takes a deep breath] CDM 2015’s definition of construction work as follows:

  1. “the construction, alteration, conversion, fitting out, commissioning, renovation, repair, upkeep, decoration or other maintenance (including cleaning which involves the use of water or an abrasive at high pressure, or the use of corrosive or toxic substances), de-commissioning, demolition or dismantling of a structure”, and at

  2. “the installation, commissioning, maintenance, repair or removal of mechanical, electrical, gas, compressed air, hydraulic, telecommunications, computer or similar services which are normally fixed within or to a structure.”

If you are having any work carried out in your premises there’s a lot to think about – not least the risk of fire. Controlling the hazards of fire is key to controlling the risk of fire and in this blog I will identify the hazards present on construction sites, the control measures to be implemented on site and how likely the harm presented by the hazard is.


The two main hazard areas you will need to control are sources of ignition and fuel – if you don’t have fuel you can’t have a fire. Similarly, if you don’t have an ignition source, you can’t start a fire. So the simple solution is to keep them separated as much as possible.

Ignition Risks

The main ignition risks:.

  • Electrical faults

  • Hot working

  • Smoking

  • Temporary lighting and lamps

  • Portable heaters

  • Arson

  • Lightning

Fuel Hazards

You must control the combustible materials on site: they should be limited to those absolutely necessary. There are a variety of flammable materials with the potential to be stored or used on site, including:

  • Combustible building componentswhere possible, non-stores materials should not exceed the quantities required for a day's work, storage of combustible items should be limited and a gap of 6-10 metres should be left between any fuel packages. Care should be taken not to leave any sources of ignition near to fuel packages – for example a stack of scaffold boards is difficult to ignite with a small pilot flame but if you have waste cement bags in, or adjacent to, a pile of waste the combination has a higher risk of igniting the wood stack.

  • Combustible scaffold and temporary covering materials

  • Flammable gases and liquids

  • Waste materials

Control Measures

If the works fall under CDM, the principal contractor must draw up a construction phase plan which should include fire safety and emergency procedures for the site including:

  • Ensuring that there are a sufficient number of suitable emergency routes and exits that must be kept clear and free from obstruction. If necessary these must be provided with emergency lighting as a provision in case any fire or emergency causes a loss of power

  • Exit routes must be indicated by suitable directional signage. A general rule to follow: if there are any areas of your escape routes that you cannot see a sign, you need to install one there

  • Where necessary, suitable and sufficient fire-fighting equipment and fire detection and alarm systems must be installed. Remember: dry powder fire extinguishers are no longer to be used indoors

  • Anyone tasked with the use of an extinguisher must be instructed in the correct use of fire-fighting equipment

Emergency Routes and Exits

The basic principle of means of escape is that anyone confronted by a fire is able to turn their back on it or pass it safely to reach a place of safety – this can be a place of relative safety such as a protected staircase or ultimate safety away from the building. The provision of an alternative means of escape avoids anyone having a single direction of travel, or 'dead-end' conditions, where they may become trapped by fire or smoke.

Other considerations include:

  • Fire Detection and Alarms

  • Hot Work Permits

  • Firefighting Equipment

  • Emergency Lighting

So what does the business owner need to consider?

If the work does not fall under CDM, you still need to ensure the assessment and control measures are in place.

Firstly, choose your contractors wisely and make sure they have the required competence and have assessed all the risks associated with the task before they begin.

If there is a Health, Safety or Fire incident on your premises, it won’t just be the contractor that’s under the microscope – you will need to ensure you have complied with the Control of Contractors requirements. But that’s for another blog.


Fire isn't always given the consideration that it should be, and I have seen multiple situations where employers have not taken into account the potential impact on their business.

Let’s look at a scenario:

  1. You have some work being carried out in a room by a fire exit which has caused the fire exit to be blocked temporarily.

  2. Further down the corridor you have a room full of staff.

  3. Still further you have a room of higher risk like a kitchen or server room.

  4. A fire breaks out in the kitchen which means nobody can get past the kitchen

Earlier I discussed the need to be able to turn your back on a fire – clearly this is not possible here, and the consequences do not bear thinking about.

What does the business owner need to do?

It’s quite simple really. You are legally required to carry out a Health, Safety and Fire risk assessment before you allow any work to be carried out and make sure that you protect your employees. Make sure your assessor is competent to carry out the assessment.

It may be a very simple project and you as the business owner could do it yourself, but you must get it right. If in doubt, consider external support.

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