It’s already been a brutal 2015 wildfire season in the Western United States. (If you happened to reside under a rock, you might not know that Washington State is experiencing its worst fire season on record.) And it’s only the beginning.

Fires can start on a dime at construction sites, too. There have been a few big ones of late—for instance, the December 2014 downtown LA fire in an under-construction building that required 250 firefighters to contain.

Causes for concern in construction industry

Even if they don’t often lead to wildfires, construction fires can easily cause millions of dollars in damage. Last summer a roundtable encompassing the National Association of Home Builders and the International Code Council met in Washington, D.C., to discuss fires in buildings under construction.

The group expressed certain concerns about the current state of the construction industry with regard to fire prevention, including these:

  • a lack of code enforcement staff to inspect construction sites for adequate fire prevention
  • a need to educate the construction workforce, including the influx of new hires post-downturn
  • and the need for worker training programs and construction site signage in multiple languages

The basics of construction fire prevention

Of course, there are the obvious sources of heat and ignition at construction sites, like torches, kettles and catalytic converters. But there are also lesser known ones, such as as static electricity or grinding operations.

The fuels that feed fires in construction zones can be any combustible material, such as wood, trash or clothing, a flammable liquid, or flammable gases. Combine the heat source with the fuel and add a little oxygen, and the fire is good to go (and keep going).

While international fire codes are already rigorous, the NAHB and code council admitted that there may be unknown gaps that should be addressed.

Current code requirements include but aren’t limited to:

  • Approved water supply for firefighting
  • Relegated cigarette smoking area
  • Properly located portable fire extinguisher(s)
  • Permit for safe hot work
  • Requirements for the use of temporary heating equipment
  • Standpipes when buildings exceed four stories in height

To avoid a fire at your worksite, check out these helpful Occupational Safety and Health Administration tips.