Almost 17 months after flames engulfed the historic tea clipper in its dry dock, the enquiry into the cause of the Cutty Sark fire discovered the culprit, and it was all caused be an industrial vacuum cleaner.
The vacuum cleaner, an Italian model adapted for the UK market’s lower voltage, was left switched on by contractors over the weekend, and consequently overheated. A vital cut-off switch was not included in the UK adapted models, which would have prevented the machine getting hot and catching fire back in 2007.
Lessons from the Cutty Sark: Fire Safety Practices
However, the investigation also revealed how a mix of sloppy fire safety practice and lack of vigilance also contributed to the outbreak of fire on the historic ship.
Two security guards failed to spot the fire on their rounds, and it emerged that they may have falsified reports of their watch, in order to go home early. No fire marshall inspection was made of the site before the weekend in question. Renovation workmen were responsible for ‘dangerous practices’, including plugging equipment into loose electrical connections. In addition, fire alarm tests may not have been carried out in the weeks proceeding the fire.
Lessons from the Cutty Sark: The Cost of Fire
The fire at the Cutty Sark cost the restoration project an extra £10m, although luckily much of the ship had already been removed for restoration at the time of the blaze in May 2007. The Cutty Sark is not the first historic site to catch fire whilst being restored or maintained. Back in 1992, Windsor Castle was gutted by a fierce fire that began in the chapel, probably caused by a spotlight shining on a curtain.
Lessons from the Cutty Sark: Reassess Your Fire Risks
The message for all business owners is clear; if you are having any work done on your premises, your fire risk changes. Items or stock may be stored in unusual places while other parts are being renovated or extended. Contractors will bring extra equipment on site, used by workmen with, (understandably), no experience of your normal fire safety practices. Staff may find their normal fire safety routes have temporarily changed, or access to fire safety equipment restricted.
Lessons from the Cutty Sark: Be Prepared
The secret is to be prepared! Here’s a few easy ways to improve fire safety during your renovations:
- Plan ahead, and establish alternative fire escape routes if the usual ones are constructed. Remember to inform staff of any changes to your normal fire escape routine, and mark them with new fire safety signs
- Make sure your contractors are fully aware of the standard of fire safety you expect of your staff – and of their workers too. Remind them that, yes, fire drills and evacuations also apply to construction workers
- Walk the talk by inspecting the site when contractors are working, and informing the site foreman of any concerns you have
- Ensure that, despite the work, your normal fire safety routines continue, from fire alarm tests to fire extinguisher replacement programmes
- Make sure all your fire maintenance activity is logged, and your fire documents safely stored in a cabinet, for easy access by the fire brigade if required
Fire Alarms on Construction Sites
As any construction worker will tell you, building sites are incredibly noisy places. Health and safety regulations specify that certain workers should wear ear defenders, a wise precaution, but it also means that they are less likely to hear traditional fire alarm bells.
For noisy sites, the wise contractor should install a heavy duty, battery-powered Howler site alarm. Even if the power fails, this tough little alarm will push out an impressive 120db of noise, enough to alert your staff on site to potential danger.
Needless to say, you can buy all your construction site fire extinguishers and alarms right here at Fire Protection Online, and at prices that won’t ignite the budget either. Remember, not operating strict fire safety practices on site could cost you a whole boatload of business – and possibly £10m…