7 Possible Causes of Fire on Construction Sites


In 2019, the United States registered 1,291,500 cases of fire outbreaks. Of this figure, 1,900 were fatal and 7,000 caused serious injuries to victims. All of them happened in residential buildings. Experts identified cooking as the leading cause of many of the fire incidents. But that’s just one of the major causes of fire in residential buildings.

Fire incidents are common, particularly in construction sites. Unfortunately, it’s easy to start one even without knowing. All you need is oxygen, heat and fuel; all of which are easy to find on a construction site. But aside from cooking on-site, what else can cause a fire in a construction site?

1. Power

During construction, temporary electrical service may be set up for the building. Some of the equipment may include cordless tools and machines that run on lithium-ion batteries which burn easily. As a result, they can cause serious harm to workers on-site when they explode and even affect parts of the building that are less resistant to fire. To make sure this doesn’t happen, all electrical equipment set up on the site must be up to code and maintained regularly. Battery charging stations that use electricity should be located outside the building and properly maintained.

2. Arson

People can cause fires on purpose. Most times it’s because they want to steal from the construction site or vandalise it out of anger against the management. But one thing is certain, arsonists burn down things intentionally. Stopping an arsonist is not easy because they’re deceptive. However, you can reduce their chances of burning down a building by installing security measures in places like fencing, motion detectors, and perimeter controls. You can still beef up security around the building by employing more security guards for after-hours monitoring.

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3. Flammable

Plastic and rubber are common materials that constructors use on construction sites. But these materials are highly flammable and burn easily when exposed to fire. Besides this, toxic chemicals used for building can also cause fire when exposed to intense heat. Sometimes some of these chemicals are improperly disposed of or left exposed to heat which can lead to fire incidents. To prevent this, ensure flammable materials like used rubber and scrap plastic are disposed of properly. Store flammable chemicals that can’t be discarded immediately properly and keep them away from heat or fire.

4. Smoking

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It’s not just doctors who’re against it, everyone is against it. Smoking kills and it can do so on a large scale, especially on construction sites that use a lot of fuel to run their operations. Often people are fond of dumping cigarette butts without killing the fire in them. Sadly, when these things land on flammable materials like plastic and rubber, they can lead to a deadly fire incident. As a result, smoking should be strictly prohibited in construction sites. Enforce a strict no smoking policy and punish defaulters. If possible, designate a safe area off-site where people can smoke and dispose of their cigarettes.

5. Incomplete Fire Protection

Nowadays, many constructors rush building projects to beat deadlines and often forget to install fire protection devices in case of fire incidents. Sometimes these devices are hurriedly or poorly installed and are untested. Unfortunately, when a fire breaks out, these fire protection devices like sprinklers and fire alarms fail to work and millions of dollars are lost to the fire. To avoid this, ensure all fire protection devices are tested after installation. Be present when these devices are installed to ensure they are done properly. If not, hire an inspector to monitor things on the site during and after work hours.

6. Hot Work

A lot of things happen on construction sites. Most of the common operations you’ll likely see are soldering, grinding and welding because constructors used a lot of metals on site. Often, the equipment used for carrying out these tasks remain hot after the work has been completed, and this can be very dangerous. The lingering heat can cause a spark, which can lead to a fire outbreak. In addition, some of these equipment are flammable and can escalate the fire outbreak. To avoid this, create a cooling off period to allow equipment that heat up easily when using them to fully cool down. This way it is safe to store them later.

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7. On-site Cooking

Cooking is the most common cause of fire incidents in residential buildings. Cooking on-site is much worse because of the numerous flammable materials around. According to the NFPA, cooking equipment catching fire is responsible for 27% of construction fires — that’s a lot! Shockingly, it’s the highest percentage on the chart. Cooking on-site is dangerous and should be avoided at all costs!Prohibit workers from bringing their grills or hot plates or microwaves on-site. Also, let them know the danger of doing so as this will help them understand why they can’t cook on the construction site.

Fire Safety for Construction Sites: 3 Tips

Fire outbreaks can happen anytime in a construction site, which is why learning about fire safety measures is very important. Your worksite is your home away from home, therefore, it is important to protect and safeguard it from fire. Below are fire safety measures you can carry out to prevent fire outbreaks. They are simple and easy to do.

1. Conduct Daily Inspections

The International Fire Code (IFC) says conducting daily fire safety inspections on construction sites is effective and works. For this reason, the IFC advises that construction sites must have a site safety director that inspects the exterior and interior of the site daily. This person must document and record their observations daily.

As part of their job, the site safety director must inspect potential sources of fire outbreaks such as the one we’ve listed above. They must also check fire access roads and ensure that fire extinguishers are working properly and are well spaced.

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To ensure that this routine inspection is thorough and complete, create a construction site checklist that contains all IFC requirements. This list must be checked daily by the site safety director after every inspection.

2. Create a Cooking Area

Construction work is energy-consuming, which means workers are likely to get hungry every few hours. Even though cooking is a major cause of fire outbreaks in construction sites, workers still need to eat to work effectively. To keep their energy levels high, create a cooking spot that is on-site but far away from combustible or flammable materials. Inform all workers that they must only cook in this area. However, always inspect the cooking area at the end of every workday.

3. Establish a Site Safety Plan and Hire a Safety Director

Design a site safety plan for the construction site. It must include all the fire safety guidelines, standards and protective measures necessary to keep the site fire-free. In addition, the site safety plan, among other things, should include the contact information of the site’s safety director, training documentation, on-site smoking and cooking policies, emergency notifications, the contact information of fire emergency services, the site’s security provisions, etc.

As part of their role, the safety director must ensure workers and nonworkers on the site comply with site’s safety planning. In addition, the director must ensure that all the safety equipment on-site are working properly and all fire safety procedures are followed in the event of a fire outbreak. Lastly, the safety director should conduct fire-related training exercises for on-site workers; it could be monthly or every three months.