It was May 19th, 2023. A massive fire took hold of a construction site in Charlotte, NC. Over 90 firefighters rushed to the site to put out the blaze and search for victims.
While 15 workers had been rescued, 2 were pronounced dead, and their families were quickly notified. According to ABC News, the fire started accidentally in a spray insulation foam trailer.
The unfortunate event highlights a looming danger. Construction sites face fire-related incidents daily. Instances of fires can rise due to flammable materials, electrical hazards, oil spills—the list goes on!
Startling data from OSHA states that burn-related injuries make up 5% of fatalities in construction sites.
This figure reveals a potential gap in safety and compliance procedures within contractor management.
So, with February 4th-10th being National Burn Awareness Week, it’s a perfect time to review and mobilize fire and burn policies, training, and planning to ensure our workers and job sites are 100% safe and compliant!
1. Cooking On Site
According to the National Fire Protection Association (NFPA), cooking equipment is one of the leading causes of fire-related incidents on sites, making up 27% of construction fires.
2. Portable Heaters
NFPA identifies onsite heaters as the second largest cause of construction-related fires. They advise that portable heaters be UL-approved, having gone through rigorous safety testing.
3. Hot Work and Tools
Construction sites can require workers to conduct work with hot tools like soldering, welding, torching, lasers, and flint strikers. The equipment can cause sparks and are combustible if a fire starts.
4. Smoking and Poor Cigarette Disposal
Even the simple tossing of a cigarette butt can cause a wild, out-of-control fire on site. Working with oil, electrical equipment, and even lingering flammable debris can raise the level of risk.
5. Combustible Materials
Many sites require workers to use dangerous materials. Proper storage and disposal is a must. Flammable materials and chemicals can raise grave safety concerns if not stored sufficiently.
Fire and Burn Safety Practices for Contractor Management
Now that we’ve determined some of the biggest offenders, let’s break down what contractors can do to maintain compliance and create a fire-safe work environment.
Developing a Hot Work Permit Program
One of the best ways for contractors to prevent fires is to implement a hot work permit program. As a standard procedure advised by the American Petroleum Institute:
- Identify and fill out the necessary permit forms based on the tools and work needed
- Have all required parties sign off (i.e., operator, fire watch, and worker)
- Determine how many fire or line watches you need
- Conduct safety meetings to discuss best safety practices and procedures
- Post copies of the permit at the worksite and control room until all work is completed
Anytime your workers use tools involving open flames or spark-producing equipment (i.e., welding, cutting, brazing, or grinding), a permit should be required.
Creating and Maintaining Safety Standards for Electrical Work
With electrical hazards being a major fire source, contractors should implement and enforce electrical safety rules. These guidelines should address extension cords, prohibiting damaged cords, using GFCIs (Ground Fault Circuit Interrupters) to prevent shocks, and avoiding overloads.
Tools and other electrical equipment must be regularly inspected. Plus, as a standard protocol, workers should store batteries properly, limit open flames near solar panels, and be trained on electrical risks.
Proper Storage of Combustibles Using OSHA-Approved Containers
We can’t change that flammable liquids and chemicals are a given on many job sites. To mitigate the risks and protect workers, safely store them in OSHA-approved containers.
Another best practice is designating storage areas that meet safety clearance requirements and container volume limits. Next, properly label each container and check they have self-closing lids and flame arresters.
Lastly, create crystal clear signage that identifies the storage areas and enforces no-smoking policies within the vicinity.
Inspect Your Site Trailers for Potential Fire Hazards
As onsite offices, site trailers also require hazard diligence. Stories like that of the Charlotte construction site should never have to happen.
As a safety protocol for contractor management, add trailers to routine inspection checklists. You want to look for fire starters like frayed electrical wires and improperly stored combustibles.
Secure multiple evacuation routes, test smoke alarms monthly, and prohibit trailer occupancy while charging batteries. Other initiatives like banning open flames in the trailer can be crucial to fire prevention.
Conclusion: Take Extra Measures to Prevent Fires and Burns at the Job Site
As contractors, the lives of your workers are partly in your hands. When it comes to heat and fire, prevention through precaution and procedure is the best means toward 100% compliance and incident avoidance.
With National Burn Awareness Week in mind, implementing protective measures like regular inspections, safety training, and clear policies makes construction sites much less hazardous.
How We Can Help
The safety of your workers and your ongoing prequalification are our top priorities. We understand that meeting and maintaining all the criteria necessary for hazard prevention and compliance can be a complex and time-consuming task for contractors who need to focus on the job!
Contact us today and learn how we can help you with fire safety and prevention.