Refresh your construction site fire risk practices

Despite construction site fires being an ever-present and major risk, some contractors may be unaware of regulatory changes from August 2022 and January 2023. Those who are aware of the 10th edition of the Joint Code of Practice on the Protection from Fire of Construction Sites and Buildings Undergoing Renovation changes may need further advice.

The regulations require more of those working on projects with an original contract value of £2.5m or higher or smaller contracts comprising part of a larger project worth £20m or more. Regardless of contract size, however, adopting the regulatory guidance is deemed best practice and may be what an insurer wants to see.

Various new obligations apply. Trained fire marshals, to cover staff absences, need to be appointed. Use of deep fat fryers is prohibited in temporary buildings and accommodations. A new comprehensive hot work section has introduced requirements including a continuous fire watch, stretching over several hours and supported by thermographic camera images.

Electric vehicles with lithium-ion batteries should only be charged in safe locations. Buildings over 18m in height need to have firefighting systems.

The updated regulations focus heavily on combustible materials, requiring a thorough fire risk assessment, covering fire risk from cladding materials, green roofing/walling and insulated panels. Selecting alternative non-combustible temporary materials is recommended.

Strong fire planning is required to ensure safe evacuation routes, early use of fire alarms on site, adequate firefighting equipment, access to water and trained personnel. A Responsible Person also needs to be appointed. A separate arson risk assessment should be carried out and video surveillance implemented, using BS 8418 (ref 21) compliant systems or an approved insurer alternative.

Suppliers of modular buildings have queried what the regulations mean in terms of modular building location and stack height. It is understood that BS476 will no longer be the test standard for modular unit fire resistance going forward, with BSEN 13501-2 replacing it as the benchmark standard. Units can still be situated within 6 metres (preferably 10m) of an existing structure, but if the code is updated on 1 January 2025, it may need to meet the tougher standard.

Single-height modular units still currently need walls and a roof that offers 30 minutes of structural fire resistance if situated within 6m of an existing structure. This 30 minutes will soon have to satisfy BSEN 13501-2 standards.

Where double stacking takes place, 30-minute vertical separation between units is now required, regardless of separating distance, to reduce fire spread, allowing personnel to exit safely and prevent toppling.

For units over 6m away from existing structures, the requirement is for the vertical separation of just walls, roof and supports, not the entire structure.

Within high-rise constructions, the requirement for horizontal fire compartmentation at minimum 10-floor intervals has been amended to one-hour fire resistance from the previous 30-minute requirement.

Contractors should download the code, check all regulations and assess what BSEN 13501-2 requires. Deliver what your insurer wants to see with regard to fire risk mitigation and check your policy terms. Help is at hand, however, with an experienced broker able to guide you through your cover’s requirements and assist with your risk management. Access this support now and achieve greater peace of mind.