The Notre Dame fire – reflections on Health & Safety during construction work for businesses

In the aftermath of the shocking Notre Dame fire, Citation’s Service Director Lee Mills reflects on the Health & Safety considerations all businesses must make when undertaking construction work.

We watched in shock on Monday evening as one of Paris’ most famous landmarks – Notre Dame cathedral – experienced a devastating fire that saw its spire and roof collapse.

While we don’t yet know what caused the blaze, it does provide those of us in the world of Health & Safety a moment to contemplate on the importance of Health & Safety during construction work.

The dynamic nature of Fire Risk Assessments

Fire Risk Assessments are essential and legally required. But when working in a rapidly changing environment, sometimes you need to consistently review them. How complex or hazardous a site may be will dictate how often you need to conduct and review Fire Risk Assessments.

While working in Health & Safety directly in the construction industry, I oversaw a project that included adding a very large timber frame extension to an operational care home in Kilmarnock. Owing to the risk to the residents, we had to have our Fire Risk Assessment reviewed by a competent FRA assessor every week until the extension was deemed to be inherently fire protected.

The overall importance of Risk Assessments in construction

Fires are liable to break out on construction sites due to a host of interlinked and complicated factors. That’s why conducting thorough Risk Assessments throughout the entire lifecycle of a project is key.

And it’s not just Fire Risk Assessments that can help prevent the outbreak of fires. Careful planning and control of work procedures can help to identify potential combustible materials, sources of oxygen and sources of ignition, along with identifying areas that need waste control (remove waste frequently and store it correctly) and quality control (ensure you have the correct fire stopping and fire breaks)

Hot works control procedures

Hot work is synonymous with activities such as welding and cutting but could apply to anything with the potential to produce ignition sources or intense heat. Hot work is also a leading cause of fire in the construction industry. Can you remove the need for hot works in your project by offsite manufacture or use different cutting methods, for example?

Having a robust control procedure for any hot works taking place on your construction site is imperative and you will need a permit. The HSE recommends appointing a fire watch during and after hot work takes place. A minimum of a one-hour fire watch is advised before signing off a Hot Works Permit under the ‘Fire Prevention on Construction Sites, 9th Edition’. For timber frames, this extends to two hours

Emergency Procedures

Write an emergency plan for any potential incidents at your construction site and share it. Do you have an adequate plan in place if a fire breaks out? Do you review it frequently? Do you have specific evacuation procedures and are there any special requirements for fighting a fire?

Notre Dame presents an interesting example as it’s a very tall building located on an island in the Seine, with many narrow, winding streets surrounding it. It always bears thinking about the surrounding area when considering an evacuation plan.

What does your Construction Design and Management (CDM) plan say?

The Construction (Design and Management) Regulations of 2015 aim to improve Health & Safety in the construction industry. Their guidance helps to sensibly plan construction work so risks are managed from start to finish. This includes fire safety management.

CDM Regulations say anyone carrying out work on a construction site must make sure that suitable and sufficient steps are taken to avoid any and all risk of injury from fire. Does your CDM plan adequately reflect this? Have you appointed someone to take responsibility that this is being actively managed on-site?

French firefighters attended the blaze and managed to save the 850-year-old Gothic building’s main stone structure, including its two iconic towers. The fire was declared under control nearly nine hours after it started, with only one injury, which speaks volumes about the skill and professionalism of the French fire service.

If you want to review and reassess the approach to fire safety in your business, Citation’s expert Health & Safety team are on-hand 24/7 to assist you. From CDM plan advice to Fire Risk Assessment support, we’re here to support you in making your business as safe and protected as possible.

Just give our team a call or contact us using the form on this page. And if you’re already a client? Just get in touch on our 24/7 advice line on 0345 844 4848.

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