Fire prevention must always be a top priority when planning and managing construction work.
Because construction sites are at an increased risk of fire, due to factors such as unfinished building structures, increased waste and building materials, and the storage and use of fuels and other flammable materials and substances.
Of course, preventing a fire is always better than dealing with a fire, so get our toolbox talk on construction fire prevention.
But what about if a fire does happen?
On a construction site, like any other workplace, you should always have suitable fire extinguishers readily to hand and a fire and emergency plan in place.
Your fire and emergency procedures should form part of the induction procedure for all site operatives. They should know where fire call points and fire extinguishers are located, and what to do in the event of a fire.
But what type of fire extinguisher should you use on a construction site?
There are various different extinguishers available to tackle different types of fires.
Any of these types of fires could occur on a construction site, so you need to have fire extinguishers to deal with the types of fire your site is at risk of.
Planning your fire arrangements on a construction site can be difficult compared to other work environments.
In a fixed work environment, it is usual practice to assess the fire risk within a particular location and match the extinguisher to the risk in that specific area.
On a construction site, this process is not as straightforward.
Construction work is temporary. The risks and hazards within areas are changing on a regular basis as the construction project progresses. Where you could be installing electrical cables one day, you may be welding or varnishing the next.
The most versatile extinguisher type for general construction use, in our opinion, is the dry powder extinguisher.
The dry powder extinguisher can tackle most fire types, apart from cooking oils and fats (which are not usually in large supply on site, unless you have an on-site canteen and cooking facilities on larger sites, in which case you might supply wet chemical extinguishers and fire blankets to that area).
Dry powder extinguishers can handle wood and waste material fires, but also tackle flammable gases, liquids and electrical fires.
Newer water mist extinguishers (not to be confused with water extinguishers) are also very versatile. They can be used on all of the same fire types as powder extinguishers (including electrical), plus type F oil and fats.
Because they are a mist, water mist fire extinguishers don't conduct electricity and don't form puddles which could lead to electrocution.
Each fire extinguisher needs to be operated slightly differently, and operation can depend on the type of fire, which is why it is always important that there a sufficient number of operatives on site trained to tackle small fires.
As always it is important to carry out a fire risk assessment, to determine the hazards and risks present, throughout the project.
Each construction site is different and should be assessed on a project by project basis. This assessment is needed to identify the types of extinguishers most suitable for your site, the quantity needed and where they should be located.
You may find you need more than one type of extinguisher for different areas of your site, although remember to give your workforce the training and knowledge to identify the different types of fire and the extinguisher types.
Make sure your workforce understand the types of fires and the extinguishers that can be used.
Using the wrong type of extinguisher on a fire can cause more harm than good.
For example, you risk electrocution if you use a water extinguisher on an electrical fire, and you risk suffocation if you use a carbon dioxide extinguisher in a confined space.
Don't forget to keep your fire extinguishers filled and maintained. An empty or faulty extinguisher is of no use in an emergency.
Need help understanding fire extinguishers? Download our free fire extinguisher toolbox talk.