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Building and Maintenance Work

Many serious fires occur during building and maintenance work. This type of activity can increase the risk of fire and therefore needs to be carefully monitored and controlled (see also 'Hot work', on page 32). Extra fire precautions may be needed. According to the size and use of the workplace and the nature of the work to be carried out, it may be necessary to carry out a new risk assessment so that all the hazards created by the work are identified and plans put in place to control the risks.

Particular attention should be paid to:

  • accumulations of flammable waste and building materials;
  • the obstruction or loss of exits and exit routes;
  • fire doors propped or wedged-open;
  • openings created in fire-resisting partitions; and
  • the introduction of extra electrical equipment or other sources of ignition.

At the beginning of the working day, it is essential to ensure that sufficient escape routes remain available for people in the workplace, whether employees or contractors, and that other fire safety arrangements are still effective. At the end of the working day, a check should be made to ensure that all risks of fire have been removed or adequately controlled.

Particular attention should be paid to accumulations of flammable waste and building materials, the obstruction or loss of exits and exit routes

Flammable materials used during construction or maintenance work, such as adhesives, cleaning materials or paints, should be securely stored in a well ventilated area when not in use and kept separate from other materials. Rooms in which they are used should be well ventilated and free from sources of ignition. Gas cylinders not in use should be stored securely outside the workplace, preferably in the open air. Smoking and the use of naked flames should not be allowed when using flammable materials.

In workplaces fitted with automatic fire detection systems, you need to consider how false alarms can be prevented during building or maintenance work, or where hot work is being undertaken, while maintaining adequate fire warning arrangements. At the end of such work the systems should be reinstated and tested (if they have been de-activated). Take special care when restoring gas and electricity supplies to ensure that equipment has not been inadvertently left on. Further information on fire precautions on construction sites can be found in the publications referred to in the References section.

Flammable Rubbish And Waste

Flammable rubbish and waste should not be stored, even as a temporary measure, in escape routes such as corridors, stairways or lobbies, or where it can come into contact with potential sources of heat. Accumulations of flammable rubbish and waste in the workplace should be avoided, removed at least daily and suitably stored away from the building. Do not allow flammable waste, unused materials, and redundant packaging, such as cardboard, wooden or plastic containers and wooden pallets, to build up at the workplace; these must be safely stored until they are removed from your premises. Where a skip is provided for the collection of debris or rubbish, it should be positioned so that a fire in it will not put the workplace, or any other structure, at risk.

Parts of the workplace which are not normally occupied, such as basements, store rooms and any area where a fire could grow unnoticed, should be regularly inspected and cleared of non-essential flammable materials and substances. You should also protect such areas against entry by unauthorised people.

If the workplace has waste or derelict land on or bordering it, you should keep any undergrowth under control (using a non-flammable weedkiller if necessary) so that a fire cannot spread through dry grass, for example. If you do have to burn bonfires in yards or other open areas, they should be carefully controlled and in positions where they will not pose a threat to the workplace. You should make sure that any bonfire is completely out before closing the workplace for the day.

Reducing the risk of arson

Deliberately started fires pose very significant risks to all types of workplace. A study conducted by the Home Office (Safer communities: towards effective arson control) has suggested that the cost of arson to society as a whole has now reached over 1.3 billion a year.

The same study suggests that, in an average week, arson results in:

  • 3500 deliberately started fires;
  • 50 injuries;
  • two deaths; and
  • a cost to society of at least 25 million.

The possibility of arson should be considered as a component of your risk assessment and it is one that you can do much to control. The majority of deliberately started fires occur in areas with a known history of vandalism or fire-setting. Typically, local youths light the fires outside the premises as an act of vandalism, using flammable materials found nearby. Appropriate security measures, including the protection of stored materials and the efficient and prompt removal of rubbish, can therefore do much to alleviate this particular problem.

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