Don’t let church repairs become a burning issue
The latest in our series from Baptist Insurance highlights the increased risk of fire during building maintenance works, and the precautions you need to take
It took 60 firefighters battling through the night to save the historic Anglican church of St Michael and All Angels in Tyneside. The alarm was raised at 11pm and by the time the fire was extinguished, over £2m of damage had been caused, including the destruction of six bells which crashed down the badly-damaged belfry, and wrecked half the church's roof.
The Rev John Sinclair, standing powerless outside his blazing church found it hard to believe the scale of the fire – and all because maintenance work had taken place earlier.
The investigation into the fire in 2006 found the most likely cause to be sparks from an angle grinder being used by a plumbing contractor to cut up an old radiator.
This highlights the risk posed by building maintenance works, particularly what are known as hot works – what the health and safety regulations define as ‘working with ignition sources near flammable materials’ – essentially welding, cutting and blow torches. Along with arson, hot works are the most common cause of fires in heritage buildings, including churches.
In order to ensure your church does not fall victim to a fire triggered by hot works, the team at Baptist Insurance has compiled the following advice.
During periods when your church or hall are undergoing repairs, maintenance or extension work, the risk of fire is many times higher than usual. Work may involve the presence of highly flammable liquids or liquid petroleum gases and require the use of tools such as angle grinders or blowlamps for plumbing and welding. You need to take steps before the work begins to eliminate as many of the potential hazards as possible.
The hot work permit
The first step is the hot works permit. This is an agreement to be signed by both the contractor and a church representative which lays down a procedure for managing the hot works. The permit will set out:
the exact nature of the work to be undertaken
the location of the work
the period during which the work can be undertaken
the time by which work must cease
the time of the final check
a checklist of the precautions to be carried out e.g. removing of combustible materials, providing fire extinguishers.
You can download a hot works permit from Baptist Insurance’s website at www.baptist-insurance.co.uk
It’s also important to note that when building or maintenance works are to be carried out, you should notify Baptist Insurance as soon as the details are known. This is because some types of work can have an impact on your insurance cover.
Five top tips for churches
Be extra vigilant when building works are taking place. Supervise the activities of all contractors as closely as you can. Specifically, show all contractors the location of fire extinguishers and tell them where responsible officials or telephones can be found in the event of an emergency.
During the contract period, a responsible church official should inspect the buildings carefully at the end of each day. Hot work must cease at least one hour before the final inspection. In addition, whenever possible, make irregular visits to check how work is progressing and that agreed procedures are being followed.
Smoking should be prohibited throughout the site and should never be permitted in the buildings or where flammable liquids and vapours are present. Where permitted, it should be confined to a designated area with adequate waste disposal arrangements, and the areas thoroughly inspected at the end of each day.
Paper, plastic, cardboard, crates and all other combustible waste materials pose a fire risk so they should be removed from the site at the end of each working day or kept in a lockable lidded metal skip well away from the building, at a distance of at least six metres.
Provision should be made for gas cylinders, paints, oils, flammable liquids and building materials to be stored outside, well away from buildings. Contractors must not leave gas cylinders on roofs when work has ceased for the day. If the spraying of roof timbers is undertaken, this should only be done in a well ventilated atmosphere.
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If you would like more information on how to keep your church safe during repairs and maintenance, call the Baptist Insurance Team on 0845 070 2223 or read the guidance at www.baptist-insurance.co.uk.