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December 12, 2011

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Managing fire risk on construction sites

The UK Timber Frame Association (UKTFA) has launched guidance on building timber frame safely on sites in high-risk and densely populated areas.

The guidance emphasises that fire risk management should be considered in the early stages of the specification process to ensure that the main contractor fully manages the fire risk and specifies the correct type of timber frame. It clarifies that timber frame can be built in any location in the UK relative to the fire risk associated with highly populated, or inner-city areas.

The guidance, which applies to structures over 600m2, is aimed at architects, designers, developers and contractors, and should help them assess the fire risk to neighbouring buildings in the event of a fire occurring during construction – a requirement of HSG168 ‘Fire Safety in Construction’, published by the HSE in October 2010.

The supporting technical data in the UKTFA guidance is based on extensive fire testing, which the association carried out to determine the appropriate separating distances between buildings to minimise the heat radiation to neighbouring properties in the event of a construction-site fire. The data has led to the development of three generic categories of timber frame, with increasing resistance to fire spread and associated reduction in emitted heat to neighbouring properties.

As well as fire testing, the guidance has been informed through input from the fire-engineering community and has been developed in cooperation with the HSE, the Fire Protection Association (FPA), the Chief Fire Officers Association (CFOA) and the Fire Brigades Union (FBU).

Dr Paul Newman, director of the UKTFA, said: “Managing the risk of fire on construction sites is not a consideration for the timber-frame community alone – it affects all forms of construction. The UKTFA has paved the way in setting a standard for main contractors to follow when managing site safety. We are delighted that the HSE and CFOA consider our guidance worthy of their endorsement and we’re pleased that they felt able to commend our proactive approach in setting fire safety standards.”

Philip White, the HSE’s chief inspector of construction, added: “There has been a number of dramatic examples in recent years of the damage that construction-site fires can cause to neighbouring properties. HSE has been working closely with the UKTFA on assessing off-site fire risk and we welcome its new guidance.”

Called ‘Design guide to separating distances for timber frame buildings during construction’, the guidance can be downloaded at www.uktfa.com/fireriskmanagement

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