Fire a Clear & Present Construction Site Threat

It’s finally spring in Iowa and construction season is in full swing. With the sweet sights and sounds of life returning to normal post the Coronavirus pandemic comes the very real threat of construction site fires.

Like oil and water, red wine and white carpets, and Iowa and Michigan fans, surging spring temperatures and combustible construction materials and flammable home power sources don’t mix well. As home and office construction revs up after two years of pandemic delays, so does the renewed danger of fire burning progress and American dreams to the ground.

“While there are many exposures on construction sites, such as potential employee injuries and theft of materials or equipment, the most common hazard is fire,” West Bend Insurance’s Kayla Eggert writes.

Construction site fires also burn cash. The National Fire Protection Association (NFPA) reports construction site fires caused an estimated $304 million in property damage between 2013 and 2017. U.S. fire departments responded to an estimated 3,840 fires in structures under construction and 2,580 in structures under major renovation during that time period. Three of every four fires in structures under construction involved residential properties.

“Construction-related fires can be particularly destructive because the structure itself is incomplete,” White Cap Resource Center’s Randy Hall writes.

Even worse, construction site fires are sometimes fatal. The NFPA notes these fires caused an average of four civilian deaths and 49 civilian injuries from 2013-2017.

Fire Starters

By nature, commercial and residential construction sites are full of fire hazards. They contain numerous materials and activities that present high fire risk, including:

  • Flammable and combustible materials
  • Smoking
  • Temporary heaters
  • Hot work
  • Damaged electrical cords

The NFPA reports the leading factors contributing to construction site fires include electrical failures or malfunctions, abandoned or discarded materials or products, and heat sources too close to combustible materials. The worst construction site fire in recent memory, the April 2019 Notre Dame Cathedral fire, was ignited by a simple cigarette butt. The 850-year-old structure was ablaze at high temperatures for over eight hours as the burning roof (comprised of wood and lead) engulfed. The fire damage was immense: The cathedral’s completed renovation timeline was pushed back 10-20 years.

“There may be many ignition sources and accelerants on the jobsite,” Hall stresses.

How to Prevent a Fire Call

The risk of construction site fires is great. Thankfully, the risk can easily been minimized with smart fire safety protocols and prevention methods:

  • Fire extinguishers: The most ready fire stopper should be located in easily accessible locations throughout the site.
  • Jobsite Walkthroughs: Supervisors should conduct regular jobsite walkthroughs to check for fire hazards and ensure employees are doing what is needed to prevent fires.
  • Onboard Training: Include fire prevention training in employee onboarding and ensure all employees know what to do in case of a fire so they can evacuate safely.

“There are a variety of culprits in onsite construction fires, and many fires are preventable with proper precaution,” Hall notes.

It may be impossible to fully extinguish the possibility of a construction site fire, but knowing how to minimize the risk can greatly assist in protecting property and keeping employees safe.

“Your jobsite is your home during the day,” Hall writes. “And just like your house, it’s important to protect and safeguard your jobsite from fire.”

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