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HSE warns timber-frame industry over fire risk

The Health & Safety Executive (HSE) has written an ‘open letter’ to the timber-frame frame industry about fire risk during construction.

The HSE said “it has acted in the wake of serious incidents where fires involving timber frame structures under construction have affected neighbouring buildings”.

Last month, fire ripped through a partially-built laboratory at the University of Nottingham, where the frame was constructed mainly from glue laminated (glulam) beams.

The letter has been produced in conjunction with the Structural Timber Association (STA), which represents the industry’s manufacturers and suppliers.

HSE head of construction sector & policy Simon Longbottom said: “Serious incidents have arisen where fires involving timber frame structures under construction have affected neighbouring buildings. Consequently, HSE has worked with the STA to produce guidance on reducing the risk of harm to people in buildings adjacent to the construction site.

“Evidence from recent HSE inspections indicates that the risk of harm to occupants of neighbouring buildings from fire during the construction phase is not always effectively managed, and that not all duty holders understand what is required of them.”

He added: “Regulation 11 of The Construction (Design and Management) Regulations 2007 (CDM) requires risks to be designed out as far as is reasonably practicable. This duty is imposed on anyone who makes decisions affecting the design, including architects, structural engineers, clients, suppliers, principal and other contractors and even those involved in the planning approval process where they specify particular construction methods or products.”

The primary legal responsibility for assessing off-site fire risk rests with those making design and procurement decisions before work starts on site, Longbottom said.

“Designers and manufacturers of timber frame structures have duties under CDM Regulation 11 that cannot be passed on to the principal contractor,” he explained.

“Risk should be designed out as far as possible and information about residual risk must be passed to the principal contractor, who is then obliged to consider and manage risks arising from the activities under their control at the site stage.”

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