White Card Update: Be Prepared for Fire Emergencies

Source : Alessandra Cimatti

All workplaces, regardless of the industry should be prepared for an emergency such as the outbreak of a fire, but construction sites even more so due to the increased opportunity for such an incident to occur. There are many machines and work processes on a construction site that could cause a fire to break out unexpectedly and workers need to be prepared for this.

In order to ensure worker safety, a risk assessment should be carried out that determines all opportunities for fires to break out and what the likelihood of such an occurrence would be.

When conducting a risk assessment there are certain steps that need to be carried out.

  • Firstly the process of hazard identification should take place. This will identify all the ways a fire could possibly break out.
  • Thereafter it should be determined which workers in particular (or the public) would be most at risk and how.
  • Once it is known which workers are most vulnerable, the hazard can be evaluated and an action proposed in case the fire breaks out. This will involve considering the hazards and people at risk and acting to remove then reduce risk in order to protect workers.
  • The next step would involve recording, planning and training workers on site about the emergency response procedures. In order to do this, make a list of all the potential risks and what actions have been taken to overcome them.
  • This plan will involve making sure everyone knows and understands what to do in a fire emergency.
  • It is also important that the plan is reviewed regularly as the workplace changes, processes change and opportunities for a fire to break out also change. Check that risk control is still valid and make sure it takes account of all changes on site.

Perhaps one of the most crucial steps in developing a fire management strategy is to ensure that workers (and others on site) have a means of escape. This will involve consideration of the following:

  • Identifying safe escape routes.
  • Ensuring escape routes are visible and clearly marked out. They should also remain unobstructed at all times.
  • Signs should be erected to mark out emergency escape routes and workers need to be familiarise themselves with these.
  • Routes for workers on higher levels should be determined and should allow workers to get to the ground in a fire emergency, other than the usual method, in case a fire hampers this method.
  • These routes can be protected by installing permanent fire separation and fire doors.
  • Escape routes should give workers access to a safe place where workers can assemble in an emergency. It is often best that this place be off site because the site may be entire overrun by the fire and so a place nearby may be safest.
  • The entire escape route should be marked out clearly with signs all along it and they should be clearly visible. On dark sites or at night these signs should be illuminated. Lighting should be provided for enclosed escape routes and emergency lighting may also be a necessity.
  • There should be fire extinguishers located at identified fire points around the site. These fire extinguishers need to be checked regularly to ensure that they are functional. ¬†There are different types of extinguishers, depending on the type of fire being extinguished so the risk assessment will determine the types of fires that may break out and therefore dictate the types of fire extinguishers needed. For example gas fire fires, electrical fires, chemical fires etc.
  • A water extinguisher should be used for wood, paper and cloth fires.¬† Where flammable liquids are involved a dry powder or foam extinguisher must be present. A common occurrence on construction sites is electrical fires which require a carbon dioxide (C02) extinguisher to put out.
  • Certain people on the site should be trained on how to safely and correctly operate fire extinguishers. They can attempt to extinguish the fire of it is small enough and safe to do so without endangering their lives.