The Most Critical Period

ISTOCK / A STOCKPHOTO
ISTOCK / A STOCKPHOTO

Electrical contractors focus more on installation codes, such as the National Electrical Code and the National Fire Alarm and Signaling Code, and they may not pay as much attention to building code requirements. However, building codes require stakeholders to employ fire safety features during construction and demolition. Chapter 33 of the International Building Code states: “The most critical period in building construction related to the safety of those on the job site is when all building components have not yet been completed. Compounding this incomplete state is the use of dangerous construction methods, materials and equipment. The importance of reasonable precautions is evidenced by the federal Occupational Safety and Health Act and related state and local regulations (DOL 29 CFR; Part 1910-74).”

Relevant here are the International Building Code and International Fire Code (IBC/IFC-2009–2018 editions) and, by reference, NFPA 241, Standard for Safeguarding Construction, Alteration, and Demolition Operations. The IBC states, “The owner or owner’s authorized agent shall be responsible for the development, implementation and maintenance of a written plan establishing a fire prevention program at the project site applicable throughout all phases of the construction, repair, alteration or demolition work.”

Additionally, NFPA 241 states, “Where an entirely new structure is being constructed, the owner should ensure that specifications for new buildings contain a clause stating that ‘the contractor will take all reasonable precautions against fire in accordance with good fire protection engineering practice.’”

Loss-prevention responsibility

The loss-prevention responsibility remains with the owners. However, most owners transfer all loss-prevention recommendations they receive from the fire department and expect they will become accomplished, to the general contractor and provider of a temporary fire alarm system.

The transfer of requirements presents another source of growth and income. For example, from the requirements listed in NFPA 241, Section 7.1.2:

(a) For construction operations, installation of new fire protection systems as construction progresses

(b) For demolition operations, preservation of existing fire protection systems during demolition

The contractor’s work consists of supplying the systems required in Nos. 3 and 6. One of the easiest ways to comply with these requirements for temporary fire detection and alarm equipment involves using wireless devices installed on each floor during construction. The devices include wireless smoke detectors, wireless manual fire alarm boxes, and wired notification appliances. Several sources provide wireless fire alarm equipment for construction sites—just search for some options on the internet.

You must develop the quantity and type of fire protection equipment for your specific project and meet the authority having jurisdiction’s (AHJ) requirements. Typically, such equipment includes a manual fire alarm box, smoke detector and notification appliance located at each stairway on each floor.

The code states that installers must immediately remove any covers placed on or over fire-protection devices on completion of the construction processes in the room or area. The covers are used to protect the devices from damage during construction. Smoke detectors located in an area where you’d expect to encounter airborne construction dust must be covered to prevent exposure.

The code also requires temporarily removing smoke detectors, if the construction near the detectors might jeopardize later use. Naturally, you must promptly replace any temporarily removed smoke detectors after finishing dust-producing work. Then, inspect and clean any smoke detectors that were covered, as necessary, on conclusion of dust-producing work.

Obviously, installing code-required devices and appliances constitutes only one phase of work. Plan for the other required work as construction takes place. In your project scope, include the covering, cleaning, removal and reinstallation of the smoke detectors and the removal of the temporary equipment as you install the permanent system. Otherwise, your profits from the job will be negatively affected.

Both the IBC and NFPA 241 require maintaining and servicing all fire-protection equipment in accordance with the code. The IBC codes and NFPA 241 standard require that you follow NFPA 72, National Fire Alarm and Signaling Code, for the maintenance and testing requirements found in Chapter 14 of that code.

The IBC/IFC also requires constant vigilance for possible sources of fire and appropriately educating all the contractors on-site to recognize what constitutes fire-safe hot work. NFPA 241 suggests that fire prevention education should become a topic at all contractor safety meetings at least once a month.

Discussion topics include maintaining clear access to fire alarm manual boxes and fire-fighting equipment; reinforcing safe cutting and welding procedures; continuing the awareness of flammable liquids use and storage; understanding the use of first aid, fire-fighting equipment and roofing operations; and knowing precautions for the use of temporary heating equipment.

The owner’s program manager should investigate and document all fires, which normally includes any necessary fire prevention improvements identified by the investigation. In a fire condition, the investigator should communicate all findings to all contractors on-site as soon as possible. Project managers and foremen must know how to quickly communicate a fire condition with anyone who reports to them.

NFPA 241 states in Section 7.4.1, “There shall be a readily available public fire alarm box near the premises, telephone service to the responding fire department, or equivalent facilities.”

This presents another chance to show the owner you understand code requirements. You can connect the temporary fire alarm system off-site to a remote station. Or, you can connect the temporary fire alarm system to a supervising station where you can charge a monthly fee for monitoring during construction.

Installing the temporary fire protection gives you a leg up to work out a contract with the stakeholders for the inspection, testing and maintenance of the permanent fire alarm system. Do this before you leave the job, and maximize your profits.

Finally, you are responsible for providing a safe workplace for your employees. Temporary fire protection services on the job site certainly qualifies as an extension of the safety training you already provide.

We all enter job sites with specific work to accomplish and may not expect to find fire protection provided during construction. But now, in all jurisdictions that have adopted and enforce the IBC/IFC (2009 to the most recent), we all will now enter a more fire-safe environment.

About the Author

Wayne D. Moore

Fire/Life Safety Columnist

Wayne D. Moore, a licensed fire protection engineer, frequent speaker and expert in the life safety field, is a principal member and past chair of NFPA 72, Chapter 24. He is a vice president with Jensen Hughes at the Warwick, R.I., office and can be...

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