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6 common causes of workplace fires and tips to prevent them on the job

Scott Madison, a Ferguson author

by Scott Madison


What do you get when you combine building debris, partially installed electrical systems, flammable materials and chemical solvents? A typical construction site, with all of the ingredients to start a fire. Structure fires caused over 3,000 civilian deaths and over $11 billion dollars in property damage in 2014 according to the National Fire Protection Association. Taking precautions to prevent fires is especially important for trade professionals at work. Learn about common causes of construction site fires and protect yourself, your crew and your property on the job.

1. Haphazard construction debris disposal.

When focused on the task at hand, it’s easy to throw construction waste into a corner of a workspace that you plan on picking up when you’re finished. That waste pile can quickly become kindling for a fire. Always throw construction debris into proper waste receptacles, and keep garbage cans and dumpsters a safe distance away from heat sources.

Bonus tip: In order to save money and resources, it might be tempting to burn construction waste in a metal barrel. Not only is this a fire hazard, this is also illegal in many municipalities. Burning waste should be avoided whenever possible.

2. Temporary electrical systems.

Electrical hazards on jobsites are so common that they earned two spots on OSHA’s list of top 10 safety violations. Temporary electrical systems were included in the electrical safety violations hazards because they are prone to causing fires. Inspect extension cords for signs of wear, and never plug multiple power strips together to create more outlets because this could spark an electrical fire from a power surge.

3. Space heaters.

Trade pros know that the job has to get done, even if temperatures are frigid. Space heaters are commonly employed on construction sites to keep cold temperatures at bay and to make the climate tolerable. Space heaters are also a common fire hazard according the NFPA. Move space heaters away from flammable materials, keep them clean from dust and discontinue using them if they have worn or exposed wires.

4. Smoking in improper areas.

An ember from one cigarette is all it takes to take down an entire building from a structure fire. Allow smoking only in designated areas that are a safe distance from flammable material. Hang signage to indicate where smoking is permitted and where it is not. Dispose of cigarette butts in approved containers.

Pro tip: Explore Safety Matters to discover more ways to protect your crew, your property and yourself on the job.

5. Cooking food.

It’s common for workers on construction sites to cook food on their lunch breaks. While cost-effective, this is also an easy way for fires to start. Cooking should be performed away from flammable material if it is permitted at all. If your crew is using a portable charcoal grill to cook food, make sure that the charcoal embers are discarded safely in approved containers and not with other construction debris. If using a hotplate or a microwave, make sure they are not overloading power circuits as described above in the second bullet.

6. Lack of fire protection training and resources.

Protect your crew by training them on fire safety basics. Make sure they know the common causes of fires, as listed above. Show them how to operate a fire extinguisher and make sure they can access them on the jobsite. Provide emergency contact information and keep exits clear from blockages.

Bonus tip: If fire suppression systems haven't been installed or are not yet functional, designate a fire watch person on your crew to stand by with a fire extinguisher when others are operating flammable equipment such as welding tools.

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Scott Madison, a Ferguson author

Scott Madison

Scott is a 10+ year veteran of the online space and has literally traveled the world to present the best possible ideas (according to him) that he is able to offer. His knowledge of the HFM & MRO industries offers an experienced data-driven perspective to all of his writings.