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CE Safety FoI requests reveal hot work fires data for 2020-2021

09 March 2022

HEALTH AND Safety-focused training business CE Safety has published data collected via Freedom of Information requests in order to reveal the number of fires occurring in buildings under construction, as well as how many fires were caused by the transaction of hot work in the UK during 2020-2021.

CE Safety contacted all of the UK’s Fire and Rescue Services to obtain the data. Thirty eight of them responded with recorded construction fire figures, with the rest either not holding the relevant information or having no such fires recorded.

There were 309 fires in total in those buildings undergoing construction. Fires caused by hot work accounted for 16% of all fires in buildings under construction. In essence, hot work is the application of heat, flames, sparks, high temperatures and electricals. It’s administered via welding, soldering, cutting equipment, blow torches and similar items of machinery.

London (with 84 fire episodes), Merseyside (19) and Scotland (19) recorded the greatest number of fires in buildings under construction. The remainder of the Top Ten for 2020-2021 were the West Midlands (16), Lancashire (14), West Yorkshire (13), 7) Hampshire and the Isle of Wight (13), Humberside (13), Greater Manchester (10), South Yorkshire (10) and Derbyshire (10).

The regions with the most hot work-related fires were London (5), Derbyshire (5), South Yorkshire (4), the West Midlands (4) and Scotland (4). The records show that the causes of the fires were largely incidents involving blow torches, cutting and welding equipment or other equipment. Some injuries were recorded, while most hot work fires took place in domestic buildings where renovation work was taking place.

Equipment and working practices

The nature of hot work in the building sector necessarily means that special attention must be paid to equipment and working practices. Negligence is often the main factor when a hot work fire ignites, with companies transacting such tasks being either unprepared or failing to initiate the right training. Hot work permit and hot work passports training courses outline exactly what kind of preparation is vital before undertaking such high-risk construction duties.

According to the insurance company Zurich, the costs of hot work fires over the past decade have resulted in total losses of circa £69.8 million. Back in 2020, Zurich revealed it had handled a claim that saw losses of almost £20 million accrue due to a hot work-related fire. The loss team at the firm collected evidence of the case and found that major failings had taken place with the management and implementation of the project.

At 309, the total number of construction fires was higher than the previous year when there were 204 recorded fire episodes, despite the downtime in trade during the pandemic.

Gary Ellis, hot work permit training specialist at CE Safety, informed Fire Safety Matters: “There’s no doubt that most hot work fires are caused by negligence and oversight and are usually down to a failure to train properly or otherwise manage projects effectively and safely.”

Ellis added: “Every year, we see fires in construction in regions of the UK, with most Fire and Rescue Services experiencing at least one hot work fire to tackle. Such fires are dangerous, can cause injury and ruin projects, not to mention the fact that they’re often extremely costly. Ultimately, though, they are avoidable. More vigilance is vital.”

*CE Safety has outlined how to reduce the risk of fires from hot work-related activities. Read the guidance online