Advisory Report: Building Bridges to Fight Construction Site Fires

Nov 22, 2022 / by AAIS

As a part of the AAIS Pulse: Chicago presentation, AAIS Senior Risk Lead Strategist Dr. Matt Hinds-Aldrich hosted Raymond O'Brocki with American Wood Council and Gerald Potempa with AXA XL to discuss the fire protection and insurance industries and how they can address persistent challenges in the builder's risk and inland marine domain - fires in buildings under construction.

Matt Hinds-Aldrich kicked off the discussion by stating, "Construction site fires tend to gather a lot of attention in large part because they are typically some of the only fires that are still burning with the news media rolls in, and they tend to be quite spectacular with significant losses." He went on to explain the importance of bringing together the fire industry and the insurance industry to help examine how to break down some of the barriers to take a more joint approach to address this type of risk and mitigate future losses.

When asked to elaborate on the scope of the problem and what trends he is seeing, O'Brocki responded by saying "The National Fire Protection Association did a study on construction site fires, so on average the U.S. gets 3,840 construction site fires a year, another 2,580 occur during major renovations." He went on to state that they only make up about 2% of fires, the biggest is still single family dwellings, but construction site fires create an immense amount of property loss and the press they get for the construction industry and the wood industry is large. 

O'Brocki also shared that some of the findings his research has found is the #1 reason fires are started (which is 33% of the fires) start from cooking. "There has been a culture change in the construction workforce with more employees want to cook on the worksite versus purchasing their meals or going out for their lunches."

Gerald Potempa was next asked to expand on how his organization, AXA XL, is looking at mitigating construction site fires. He responded with "the biggest thing we see on construction sites are combustibles - low combustible loading." He explained that these are areas of boxes upon boxes of materials placed on top of each other, in corners, out in the open, etc. He also agreed with O'Brocki's mention of cooking being one of the biggest culprits of construction site fires due to employees cooking on site.

Aldrich next opened up the conversation to touch on the enforcement gap of construction site codes, asking his panel to explain a bit on this topic. O'Brocki explained that "many don't understand that building and fire codes exist that safeguard construction...and there is a responsibility gap amongst building inspectors and fire inspectors." He shared that they tend to label specific codes to be under the responsibility of the building inspectors and not the fire inspectors, and vice versa. He also mentioned that of all the construction fires he has investigated, 100% of them were predictable and preventable.

Next, Aldrich asked about another important topic...key risks surrounding "hot work". Potempa explained that "hot work" is usually classified as anything that has to do with a flame - grinding, soldering, heat treating, and anything that can generate a flame or a spark." He went on to explain that the hot work policy program is essentially a paper ticket generated that outlines the job hazard analysis of that "hot work". It includes a meeting of the person doing the work and the person overseeing or monitoring the work being done. Together, they fill out a form and it gets put on the job board so everyone can see what is happening in that area. 

To view the full interview and here about all of the findings discussed during this session, please click the video above.

Tags: Insights, Issues & Trends, AAIS News & Views, AAIS Insights, AAIS Pulse, Pulse Chicago


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