UKTFA announces 'Site Safe' campaign

Published:  16 December, 2009

ALLOA: The UK Timber Frame Association (UKTFA) is announcing plans to fast-track the next phase of its fire safety work following the construction site fire in Peckham last month.

The UKTFA is rolling out its communications with timber frame manufacturers and industry suppliers about a new three-step plan to ensure that fires on large timber frame construction sites can never happen again, and to reassure developers that timber frame continues to be a safe, speedy and affordable way to build.

Geoff Arnold, chairman of the UKTFA and managing director of Pinewood Structures Ltd, said: “We have been delighted with the support we have received from many quarters over the last fortnight since the Peckham fire. Everyone agrees that timber frame as a construction method has too many benefits for us to ignore in our efforts to provide high quality affordable homes with excellent environmental performance, save carbon and reduce fuel bills for the people most in need.

“We have been working on a detailed and collaborative fire safety project since the Colindale fire in 2006. Our fire safety guidelines were developed with help from the fire authorities and the HSE to give clear advice to contractors, and they have been heavily promoted within the timber frame industry and its clients.

“The message has always been very clear: what matters above all is good site management and site security by the contractor during the construction period, particularly in inner city locations or areas vulnerable to vandalism or arson, regardless of what method of construction is used. We are determined to ensure no one can ignore this message in future, so we are bringing forward our plans for mandatory requirements to force greater compliance.”

First Phase

‘Site Safe’ will be the first part of the UKTFA’s plans. It will be implemented by 31 January 2010. The initiative will involve a requirement for timber frame manufacturers to get clear agreement upfront from the main contractor/developer that they understand the short-term risks when timber frame panels are under construction on large sites, and that they will take appropriate action to mitigate any risks. This process will be mandatory for all UKTFA members, and documented evidence that the discussion between the manufacturer and main contractor/developer has taken place will be maintained by the UKTFA member.

This approach will be backed up by a mandatory, two stage, independent audit. Stage 1 will involve checks to see that the short-term risks have been communicated adequately to the main contractor/developer. Stage 2 will require on-site assessment of the measures taken to mitigate the fire risk. It is increasingly common for a timber frame company to employ a third party service to carry out health and safety audits. It is the UKTFA’s intention to expand this role to review actions taken to mitigate against fire during the construction phase and to make such inspections mandatory for large timber frame sites. Any issues identified would will be passed to the main contractor and, where appropriate, the Health and Safety Executive.

Second Phase

The second part of the UKTFA’s plan will take effect by the end of March 2010, and will involve consideration of other changes to the construction process itself to minimise the vulnerability, and boost the security, of buildings under construction.

The final part will involve another substantial round of R&D funded by the UKTFA, including testing of new product enhancements and the impacts of fire retardant treatments. The results of this work will be available for release by the end of next year.

Roger Coppock, head of specialist advisors at the Forestry Commission, said: "Timber frame has been, and will continue to be, a great success story for the UK construction sector. Timber, like all other building materials, has to comply with UK building and fire safety regulations, which are among the most stringent in the world.

“In addition, the recently published Read report on Combating Climate Change emphasises that substitution by timber offers an attractive opportunity for tackling climate change. In contrast to alternative materials which release greenhouse gases in their production, wood products enable carbon to be stored in buildings. These benefits must be continued to be harnessed by the UK development community.”

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