Construction Site Fire Strategies: Protecting Workers While Reducing Costs

In a bid to meet demand for housing and commercial properties in the UK, private developers and social housing regeneration schemes have recently started to make use of their stocks of previously held land.

Although this is good news for the housing market, as the severely restricted supply of homes will increase, developers remain cautious and often avoid tying up too much of their finances in a build.

One way of achieving this in tall buildings is through the use of phased construction, with sections of a building being completed at different times and opened for use in order to generate revenue for the upcoming phases.

By bringing in the most appropriate workers at each point, the process can be streamlined. However, due to the variation that this creates across a site, and the large numbers of tradespeople involved, fire safety is often a concern.

In the past, responsibility for providing a site’s fire safety plans would have fallen to the construction team, often working alongside an appointed Construction Design and Management (CDM) Coordinator, with the project’s fire consultant only putting a concept fire strategy in place for the completed building.

With the changes to the CDM Regulations published in April 2015, however, this is no longer the case. Under the amended regulations, the role of the CDM Co-ordinator has been replaced by a ‘Principal Designer’, who must be appointed by a client for all projects which require more than one contractor to be on site at a time.

As a result of this, fire engineering consultants are increasingly being called upon to provide construction sites with the same levels of insight and expertise that they would usually bring later in the build process. Fire engineering consultants are keenly aware of a project’s potential risks, as they may have been responsible for the completed building’s fire strategy, which also helps to reduce the amount of temporary fire safety measures that need to be put in place.

Once the construction team has identified the proposed locations of site facilities and created a logistics plan, an initial fire safety plan can be put in place and adjusted as the site develops, for instance if escape routes become closed or building areas are handed over to the client.

As well as providing an overall higher level of expertise, the specialist nature of fire engineering consultants allows them to ensure that every requirement is met, with suitable and protected escape routes being provided for all occupants.

These benefits are even clearer in single-staircase buildings. Although Building Regulations call for more than one staircase to be in place during construction to provide means of escape, a lack of available space on-site and budgetary constraints can make this unrealistic or impossible. In cases such as this, consultants can create a strategy that maximises the safety of the single staircase, ensuring that it is protected from smoke ingress and so protecting the escape route.

Similarly, management procedures can be put in place for phased projects in order to maintain the protection of the staircase to such a level that it can be used to provide access for both occupied and construction areas.

As construction on site advances, fire engineering consultants can offer significant cost-savings. For instance, teams are often tasked with carrying out assessments before the building’s drylining is put in place, in order to check that the fire-stopping measures and compartmentation are suitable before any aesthetic elements are added. This greatly removes the risk of having to carry out later alterations in order to meet the required standards, while also decreasing the amount of temporary fire compartmentation required during the construction phase.


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