On March 8, a fire ripped through a construction site at an apartment complex in Denver, CO. The flames were so hot that they melted nearby cars.
About fifty construction workers were in the building when the fire broke out. Some of them jumped from the second and third floors of the building in order to escape. And the aftermath? Six workers were injured in the blaze, and two were killed.
In addition to the human toll of injuries and deaths, fires at construction sites cause $310 million in property damage every year. So what can be done to prevent them?
Construction Fire Causes
U.S. fire departments respond to about 8,440 fires every year in buildings that are under construction, undergoing major renovations, or being demolished. Fires in these structures accounted for 13 deaths and 132 injuries. (These numbers don’t include first responders who were injured or killed.)
Construction site fires like the one at the Denver apartment complex are especially dangerous. That’s because buildings that are under construction have more exposed wood, which can ignite more easily than a completed structure.
Construction areas also have flammable materials and tools on site that can go up in flames in an instant. Some examples are solvents, heaters, and gasoline for powering generators.
A 2014 study revealed the most common causes of fires in under-construction buildings:
- Cooking equipment (27%)
- Heating equipment (13%)
- Torches, burners, or soldering irons (13%)
Best Practices For Prevention
According to Armand E. Sabitoni, the Secretary-Treasurer of the Laborers’ International Union of North America, “One of the most important things you can do on a construction site is practice good housekeeping. In addition to helping reduce injuries from slips, trips and falls, good housekeeping can reduce the risk for fires.”
Good construction site housekeeping practices include:
- Daily and spot checks around the site
- Prompt removal of debris
- Providing metal containers with self-closing lids for disposal of oily rags
- Maintaining an adequate number of fire extinguishers and training all workers in their use
OSHA requires employers to implement workplace fire protection and prevention plans at construction sites. This includes the placement of temporary heaters and other machinery that gets hot during operation.
Employers must also provide enough fire exits. If more than one fire exit leads to the same walkway, this might not be enough for all workers to leave the site quickly in an emergency.
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