Developing a Fire Safety Program [for the Construction Industry]

Two construction workers lost their lives and six others were injured when a Denver building, that would be 5 stories and be comprised of 85 apartment units, burned to the ground. The fire was so large and burned so hot, more than 30 vehicles and 12 surrounding structures were damaged. An investigation has determined that trades were not at fault, and it does not seem that the cause is electrical. The official cause remains as “ will remain open and under investigation.”

Every year fires in construction, renovation, or demolition sites result in approximately 13 deaths, 132 injuries, and more than $300 million in direct property damage. The top causes of these fire incidents are cooking, heating equipment, and intentionally set fires. With losses like these it is important to see why a properly managed construction site fire prevention program is essential.

The Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA), the International Fire Code (IFC), and the National Fire Protection Association (NFPA) each have requirements for the development and maintenance of a fire prevention program at construction job sites.

OSHA 29 CFR Part 1926, Safety and Health Regulations for Construction, states, “The employer shall be responsible for the development and maintenance of an effective fire protection and prevention program at the job site throughout all phases of the construction, repair, alteration, or demolition work….” [Subpart C, 1926.24]

IFC, Chapter 33, Fire Safety During Construction and Demolition, states, “The owner or owner’s authorized agent shall be responsible for the development, implementation and maintenance of a written plan establishing a fire prevention program at the project site…” [IFC 3308.1]

NFPA 1, Fire Code, states, “An overall construction or demolition fire safety program shall be developed.” [NFPA 1:]

Specific components and requirements of the fire protection program are outlined in each standard. OSHA program requirements are defined in 29 CFR 1926, Subpart F.  However, both, the IFC and the NFPA reference the requirements of NFPA 241, Standard for Safeguarding Construction, Alteration, and Demolition Operations.

NFPA 241 was developed, and is intended, to “prescribe minimum safeguards for construction, alteration, or demolition operations in order to provide reasonable safety to life and property from fire…”, and to provide “measures for preventing or minimizing fire damage” during construction operations. This standard provides a guide for the placement of temporary structures and storage of equipment and materials, safe conduct of hazardous construction processes and operations, protection of utilities, and required components of a fire protection program.

NFPA 241 provides a list of items that must be addressed within the fire safety program. Within each of these are further requirements described in full within the chapter.

  • Good housekeeping (to include location and storage of equipment, materials, and temporary structures and safe and proper application of construction methods and processes)
  • On-site security
  • Fire protection systems (installation and demolition)
  • Organization and training of an on-site fire brigade
  • Development of a pre-fire plan with the local fire department
  • Rapid communication
  • Considerations for special hazards and conditions
  • Protection of existing and surrounding structures and equipment

As with any part of a construction job, many players are required to accomplish the task, it is the same with the fire safety program. Key players are the AHJ, the building owner, fire prevention program manager, and site security personnel.

It is the responsibility of the AHJ to approve the fire safety plan. Each of the codes and standards provide allowances for the  modifications of, or additions to, the fire safety plan by the AHJ. The AHJ is responsible for clearly communicating this expectation. He may also be involved in assisting and coordinating pre-fire planning between the construction site management and the local fire department.

Ultimate responsibility for the fire safety of the site, and the development of the fire prevention program lies with the owner. The owner may manage this process directly or he can designate a program manager. Maintenance of all fire protection, inspections, and safety records are the responsibility of the owner or the designated program manager.

The owner’s designee, or the fire prevention program manager must have full authority to enforce the fire prevention program, he should be knowledgeable in fire codes and standards, and have a thorough understanding of fire protection systems and inspection procedures. The program manager is the controls the fire prevention program, and is responsible for its day-to-day implementation. His responsibilities are many and include:

  • Provide training in use of fire protection equipment
  • Supervising hot work permitting process
  • Conduct and document weekly self-inspections
  • Management fire protection system impairment procedures
  • Development of pre-fire plans and coordination with local fire department
  • Maintaining inventory and operability of fire protection devices/appliances/equipment
  • Oversee site security/guard service

Guard service and site security personnel, though strongly encouraged, may not be required on every construction site. However, it is recommended that they be required on all major projects, and other sites based on hazards, risk, firefighting access, and physical security of site and surrounding areas. Whether or not a guard service is to be provided is based on requirements of the local jurisdiction and AHJ.  Security personnel should be trained in, and will be responsible, for:

  • Emergency notification of fire department and management.
  • Use of fire protection equipment
  • Familiarity with fire hazards
  • Operation and control of construction elevators
  • Staying informed on status of emergency equipment and hazards.
  • Regular patrol of construction site/area

For additional information specifically related to the selection, training, and duties of guard service personnel, NFPA 601, Standard for Security Services in Fire Loss Prevention, should be referenced.