With the rapid construction site shutdowns (both voluntary and mandatory) due to COVID-19, fire safety may not be first in the minds of construction managers. We must remember that construction sites remain a significant fire risk to the community, irrespective of ongoing operations. To that end, we have outlined some NFPA 241 requirements that should minimally be considered as you prepare to pause your new-construction projects for an indefinite period:
- Make sure signage is current. This minimally includes:
- Street address;
- Fire department (FD) command post;
- Gate names;
- Fire department connections and pumping pressure; and
- Fire hydrants.
- Provide wayfinding to building entrances, vertical access elements (i.e. stairways), FD standpipe valves in stairways, utility shutoffs.
- Post key personnel contact information at the fire department command post, including general contractor fire prevention program manager (FPPM) and onsite security.
- Make sure the FD Command Post is in a conspicuous position and consistent with the preincident site plan issued to the city. At this time, contents should minimally include a current shutdown period NFPA 241 Plan with an accurate logistics drawing. Additionally, floor plans, a stacking diagram, points of contact, and impairment log, should be on site and available in the FD Command Post.
- Ensure the site is secure. Gates are locked, and fences are intact. Sites that are electronically monitored should continue to be so. Consideration should be given to 24/7 security, with the restrictions and understanding of minimizing staffing and interpersonal contact. Remember, the AHJ reserves the right to mandate onsite security per NFPA 241.
- While the site should be secure, fire department access should still be available. Gates should not be blocked with equipment, storage, or barriers. Approved fire department key boxes or locks should be accessible, functional, and have the right keys to access the site. Fire hydrants should be free and accessible.
- Reduce the quantity of flammables and combustibles on the site. Optimally, flammable and combustible liquids and gasses should be moved off site if possible. If that is not possible and an appropriate permit is in hand, they should be moved outdoors in safe areas that are not near buildings or accessible by the public. Combustibles, such as cabinetry or millwork awaiting installation should be neatly stacked and not excessively piled. All trash and debris should be moved out of the building prior to the site closing. Dumpsters should be emptied.
- Consider moving powered equipment offsite. Lifts, skid-steers, excavators, power floats, concrete mixers etc. still constitute an ignition hazard. If they can’t be moved, consider defueling and/or removing batteries.
- Eliminate ignition sources. Minimally confirm proper grounding of electrical components, consider shutting it down at the service entrance. Shut down heaters (consider moving diesel- and kerosene-fired portable heaters outside). Welding equipment should be disconnected from power sources. While lighting is necessary for security, it can also be an ignition source – make sure temporary lighting is in good condition.
- Secure fall hazards. Open shafts, elevator hoistways, unenclosed floors, edges, and any holes should be secured with railings (including toe kicks) or covers. Non combustible material should be used where possible to cover holes.
- Confirm availability of fire equipment. If there is a construction standpipe, make sure it is intact and operable before the site closes. Consider the following:
- FD Hose and Floor Control Valves should be closed, with caps on FD Hose Valves;
- The fire department connection is clear of obstructions and usable, with plugs or caps on the couplings;
- In-line valves are open, and all couplings/fittings in the piping are tight;
- If there is an air pressurized standpipe, confirm that the compressor is working, alarms are functional, and the system will dial out as required. If for some reason the air system needs to be decommissioned, modify the sign at the FDC to eliminate the reference to dumping air.
- Construction level fire alarms should be confirmed as operational, along with their central station monitoring. Consider changing the batteries in wireless alarm components before the site closes.
- Portable and fixed spot-type fire extinguishers should be checked to inspected and confirm they are operable.
- Think about firefighter safety. Almost anything that will go wrong with your site while it is closed will first be dealt with by the fire service, who are likely not nearly as familiar with the site as the project team. Provide as many safeguards as possible to ensure the safety of emergency personnel should they need to enter the site while it is closed.
With luck, this will be a short term closure. If you have questions or concerns regarding safely shutting down a construction site, please contact our office. It is critical that we memorialize the current state of our construction sites in an intermediary NFPA 241 Plan, which should be issued to the AHJ. Let us know if you need help with this effort.