The Koorsen blog regularly brings you the most current information about fire protection, most of which usually applies to existing buildings. However, fire protection in structures under construction or renovation and those being demolished are an increasingly important concern in light of a new report issued by the National Fire Protection Association (NFPA).
The report, which was issued in 2017, shows that between 2010-2014, while the majority of structural fires do occur in occupied and operating buildings, new construction and buildings undergoing major renovations accounted for an estimated 6,310 fires each year. The report also shows that on average 2,130 fires occur annually in structures that are being demolished. Combined, these types of fires result in an average of 13 deaths, 132 injuries, and more than $300 million in property damages each year.
Numbers like these underscore the need for building owners, contractors, installers, facility managers, and system designers as well as inspecting authorities to become more aware of the requirements in NFPA 241 Safeguarding Construction, Alteration, and Demolition Operations, which covers issues such as:
- The use of temporary construction for offices
- Equipment and storage enclosures
- Proper disposal of combustible waste
- Mitigating risk from processes and operations that can result in fire
- Temporary heating and fuel storage
- Temporary wiring and lighting
- Site security and access for fire fighting
- On-site provision of first aid and fire-fighting equipment
A Unique Set of Fire Hazards
The fire hazards found in buildings under construction, renovation, or demolition differ in many ways to those in completed buildings. The most obvious difference is their lack of fire protection.
In new construction and many major renovation projects, structures are vulnerable because code-required fire protection systems have not been installed or are non-operational. Sprinklers, smoke detection, and fire alarms are typically not installed or operational until a project is complete which leaves buildings very vulnerable to loss during construction. Firewalls are often not complete until later stages of a project and even if they are, they’re lacking the necessary firestops, which increases the risk of a fire spreading much more rapidly than it would in a completed structure. Likewise, in preparing buildings for demolition, many components of their original fire protection systems are disabled or removed, leaving them equally vulnerable to fire before they are taken down.
There are also a number of combustibles and ignition sources found on these sites that are not found in completed structures. Many types of building materials are highly combustible as is much of the debris produced during construction, renovation, and demolition. Combined with the many different ignition sources found on project sites – heating equipment and hot work such as cutting, welding, grinding, soldering, and roofing – all the ingredients for fire are present.
Security is also a concern, particularly for buildings being demolished. According to the NFPA, 42 percent of the fires that occur each year in structures under demolition are set intentionally. While security is less an issue in buildings undergoing renovation, 13 percent of the fires that occur each year in buildings under construction are also the result of arson. This is not surprising -- construction and demolition sites are often unsecured, making them more vulnerable to intentionally set fires.
Our Advice – Assume that NFPA 241 Applies to You
While the current version of NFPA 241 was published in 2013, recent statistics clearly illustrate the need for a better and more widespread understanding of the code by everyone involved in construction, renovation, and demolition projects. It does take time for any industry to get up to speed with a new set of codes. In addition, unlike other NFPA standards, which apply to structures that are existing and/or occupied, NFPA 241 applies only while a building is under construction, renovation, or demolition. And, due to the inherent complexity of NFPA 241, chances are good that many of the people involved in the construction or renovation of a building or a demolition project may not be aware that the code applies to the work they do. if they are aware of it at all.
Here is Koorsen’s advice – assume that NFPA 241 applies. If the work you do involves compliance with any one of the following codes, you are also required to comply with NFPA 241:
- NFPA 1 Fire Code
- NFPA 5000 Building Construction and Safety Code
- International Building Code (IBC)
- International Fire Code (IFC)
Ultimately, it is the building owner who is responsible for meeting the requirements in the NFPA 241. However, contractors, installers, facility managers, system designers, inspecting authorities must also be aware of the requirements of NFPA 241.
A key requirement of NFPA 241 is that building owners must designate a fire prevention program manager to ensure the correct fire safety measures are being followed throughout the entire project. However, finding someone with the right skills and expertise to do the job effectively can be challenging. In addition to having a thorough knowledge of NFPA 241, the fire prevention program manager must also be familiar with the 19 different codes and standards it references as well as specific construction operations that present the most significant fire risks on a job site.
Training is Available and Koorsen Can Help
While adoption, enforcement, and implementation of the NFPA 241 is the responsibility of the Authority Having Jurisdiction (AHJ), building owners are responsible for ensuring compliance with NFPA 241 and the complex set of additional codes it references on a day-to-day basis.
Fortunately, new training programs are now available for anyone involved in construction, renovation, and demolition projects to gain a better understanding of NFPA 241 requirements and how they pertain to the work they do. The NFPA recently launched an online training program for safeguarding construction, alteration, and demolition operations in accordance with the current edition of NFPA 241. Two additional courses -- Construction Fire Safety Practices and Fire Protection During Construction -- are also now available through the Construction Fire Safety Coalition.
The 2018 edition of NFPA 241 is expected to be available later this year and will include several new provisions for the use of temporary fire protection systems on construction sites and new measures allowing AHJs to require site security when workers are not on site.
In the meantime, trust Koorsen to find the answers you need to any questions you may have about how to keep your construction, renovation, and demolition projects -- and your workers -- safe from fire. Just give Koorsen a call at 888-456-8038 or contact us online today.