Fire safety in building and construction


Questions and Ideas

In August 2020, a devastating explosion killed at least 200 people and injured around 5000 others in Beirut. News sources said a large fire had occurred before the explosion in the Port of Beirut. After the ugly incident, the Lebanese government resigned.

Then-Prime Minister, Hassan Diab blamed the cause of the fire and explosion on 2,750 tonnes of ammonium nitrate. Mr Diab said that it was stored unsafely at the warehouse of the port.

This is just an example of how dangerous fires can be. That said, several factors can cause a fire.

Some of them are things we do daily but are unaware of their implications; however, if you know what these things are, you can prevent the fire before it happens.

 

Common causes of fire accidents

  • Poorly maintained electrical equipment
  • Misused electrical equipment; an example is an overloaded extension or socket
  • Poor storage of flammable materials like the incident in the Port of Beirut
  • Discarded smoking materials; and
  • Arson (Yes. It may be a deliberate act by somebody. Usually, it’s someone you know).

As awkward as this may sound, fires don’t just start on their own — even with the causes we’ve mentioned. For a fire to happen, three things must come together at the same time—and at the right amount, too.

 

These three things are;

  • Fuel (the material that makes the fire burn)
  • Heat; and
  • Oxygen

These three things are known as the “fire triangle”.  There won’t be a fire if one of these is absent. That’s why knowing what causes a fire is important.

With this knowledge, you’ll be able to identify things that can lead to fire accidents and store them properly.

Sources of fuel

Examples of materials (fuels) that are easily consumed by fire are:

  • Flammable liquids like petrol, paints and thinners.
  • Plastic materials and foam
  • Wood and paper
  • Waste materials like cardboard
  • Flammable liquefied gases like cooking gas.

What are the four fire safety rules?

While prevention is the best way to stop a fire outbreak, sadly, fires can happen anytime, making them very unpredictable.

Battling a fire head-on isn’t life-threatening—if you know what to do.

But what if you have zero ideas about what to do and you’re surrounded by an angry fire?

You look around and it’s only a matter of minutes before the building comes crashing down. What should you do?

Here are four fire safety rules to remember in the event of a fire or other emergencies that can cause one.

 

  • Sound the alarm: When there’s a fire, raise the alarm to warn others. If there’s a fire alarm system, trigger it! If there’s none, yell, “Fire, get out!”
  • Call emergency services: Most people do this when there’s a large fire. It’s wrong! Don’t imitate them! Call the emergency services immediately you spot a fire—even if the fire is small.

  • Extinguish the fire: If you know how to use a fire extinguisher, try to kill or reduce the spread of the fire with it. But do this when it’s safe. Otherwise, don’t try to put off the fire (if you don’t know the right fire extinguisher to use) as doing so could worsen the situation. Instead, first find a way to get out of the burning building. If you can’t, look for a place in the burning building that’s safe to hide in until a rescue team comes.
  • Evacuate the building: It’s not the time to scurry around looking for your items. The more time you spend in the building, the fewer chances you have coming out of it alive.

Therefore, when there’s a fire in a building, leave it immediately. Most times, where there’s fire, there’s smoke too. Smoke chokes the lungs and causes breathing difficulties. As a result, if you’re stuck in a burning building filled with smoke, don’t try to run or walk out of it.

You won’t get far doing that. The smoke could knock you out before leaving the building. Instead, get on your knees and crawl out of the place.

If there are other people in the building, help them get out, too. But do so only when it’s safe.

 

What are the four main principles of fire safety?

Fire outbreaks are unpredictable, dangerous, and can happen anytime. But you can still prevent them. We pulled together four main principles of fire safety we believe can help you handle any fire hazards that may occur in your workplace.

They are;

1. Reduce fire hazards in your workplace

Often, the best way to stop something bad from happening is to prevent it. Such is the case with fire outbreaks. Workplaces brim with activities and it’s often hard to spot things that are out of place. For example, faulty wirings, damaged cords, etc.

These things are some of the primary causes of fire in workplaces and construction sites. As such, the best way to go about them is either have them removed or repaired immediately. Doing this reduces fire hazards in your workplace.

Aside from faulty wirings and damaged cords, here are other potential fire hazards you must look out for!

  • Overloaded sockets
  • Flammable objects like chemicals that are improperly stored
  • Combustible objects near an ignition or heat source

If you notice any of these potential fire hazards, inform the maintenance department immediately. Lastly, keep flammable materials in a secure place and remove combustible objects away from any light or heat source.

2. Keep track of rooms that a fire prone

Another basic principle of fire safety training is to look out for rooms in your workplace that are fire-prone.

Usually, these areas are where most fires start and, sometimes, may contain flammable materials. Examples of rooms that are fire-prone and that you should take note of are:

  • Server rooms
  • Generator stations
  • Electrical storage rooms
  • Laboratories; and
  • Kitchens

As part of your safety routine, always unplug appliances after using them. You’ll save more money doing this and more lives too.

 

3. Upgrade fire detection and suppression systems

Fire outbreaks can happen at workplaces or construction sites even when nobody’s there. That’s why having the latest or up-to-date fire detection and suppression systems is vital.

If these things are in place, detecting fires will be easy. To be sure that your fire detection and suppression systems like fire extinguishers and alarms are up-to-date and working properly, check them at least once every two weeks.

You can also conduct a fire drill with colleagues to test how effective these systems are.

Other ways to make sure your fire detection systems are working and up-to-date is to:

  • Carry out monthly checks
  • Make sure they are not blocked
  • Assign a colleague to check these things if you can’t do it yourself.

4. Make sure the emergency exits are clear and visible

When fires happen, the best thing you can do for yourself is to stay alive and try to get out. That’s where emergency exits come in handy. These exits are your best bet out of a burning building, warehouse or construction site.

That’s why they must be clear and easy to access.

Also, everyone must know where these exits are so that in the event of a fire evacuating the building will be easy.

Conduct monthly fire drills to ensure everyone knows where these exits and so they know where to go.

 

WHAT ARE THE FIVE TYPES OF FIRE

We have different types of fires—that’s why there are different types of fire extinguishers (each with a unique colour and instructions) designed to fight them. That said, here are the 5 types of fires:

 

Class A fires

These fires are caused by burning solids like paper and wood. Extinguish class A fires with water, foam, ABC Dry powder, or wet chemical.

 

Class B fires

Flammable liquids like petrol and paints cause class B fires. Extinguish class B fires with foam, CO2 Gas, or ABC Dry powder.

 

Class C fires

Flammable gases like propane and butane cause class C fires. Extinguish class C fires with ABC Dry powder.

 

Class D fires

Flammable metals like lithium and magnesium cause class D fires. Extinguish class D fires with dry special powder.

 

Class F fires

Burning cooking oils or fat causes class F fires. Extinguish class F fires with wet chemicals.

For electrical fires, use extinguishers that contain CO2 gas or ABC dry powder.

 

What are the 4 ways to extinguish fire

  • Cooling
  • Interrupting
  • Smothering
  • Starving

 

Cooling

Cooling is one of the most common ways to extinguish a fire. The purpose of cooling is to reduce the temperature of the burning material. Doing this makes the burning material lose heat faster.  Water is commonly used as the cooling material.

 

Interrupting the burning process

This involves using  extinguishers such as dry powder and bromochlorodifluoromethane (BCF). These extinguishers work by releasing atoms into the air which interrupt the burning reaction.

 

Smothering

To smother a fire is to cut off its oxygen supply. For example, you can prevent fresh air from reaching a burning fire by shutting windows, doors or any other air outlets.

Other examples include snuffing out candles by covering them; applying a blanket of foam over the burning surface to separate the burning material from the air.

Another way you can remove oxygen around a fire is by introducing carbon dioxide or inert gas.

 

Starving the fire

Fires will stop burning when they exhaust their source of fuel. That’s the purpose of starving—to remove every material that can make the fire burn more.

Starve fires by removing anything flammable around it, for example:

  • remove vehicles near the fire
  • remove cargo from a ship’s hold

 

 

REFERENCES

https://www.brand-preventie.nl/en/basic-principles

https://boardgamestips.com/users-questions/what-are-4-ways-to-extinguish-a-fire/

https://www.ukfrs.com/modal/general-cm/13785/313689/document/nojs

https://www.bbc.com/news/world-middle-east-53668493

 

Joe Taylor

Over 2 decades of remodeling experience, Joe is an expert in home improvement. He is now the Managing Editor of PlumbJoe where he writes guides for homeowners. His hobbies include climbing, running and playing the piano.

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