It’s clear that the insurance sector is feeling rather risk averse at present. Having come through some tough years, the future threat that the pandemic causes in terms of claims are unknown and with this uncertainty, coming fast on the heels of the issues raised by Grenfell, it is no wonder that the building industry causes a bit of a headache for brokers and underwriters.
From the conversations that have arisen since the start of the Time For Timber campaign, when it comes to insuring projects that involve timber, there is a real reluctance to take on what is perceived as additional exposure now, whether that’s from understanding the design of the building, or from the potential of fire, or even from water damage. It is these misgivings and uncertainties that have highlighted the need for this campaign, to educate and reassure the construction insurance sector as to the benefits of timber.
The positive benefits that the increased use of timber brings to the economy, climate change and achieving net zero are clear; albeit clear to those in construction. It is evident that facing a climate crisis, there needs to be a consolidated approach to how we, as a joined-up economy can move forwards. This follows on from many insurers recognising the perils that climate change can bring, from increased risks from flooding, or from the forest fires that have dominated the news agenda in California and Australia in the space of this year. Environmentalists and economists welcomed the news that the number of insurers withdrawing cover for coal projects more than doubled this year and for the first time US companies have taken action, leaving only a very few insurers as the “last resort” for fossil fuels. In fact, last year saw the 35 biggest insurers on their actions on fossil fuels, declared that coal – the biggest single contributor to climate change – “is on the way to becoming uninsurable” as most coal projects cannot be financed, built or operated without insurance. This added to the news that pension providers are focussing on net zero, with Aviva recently setting a 2050 net-zero target for its own auto-enrolment (AE) default pension funds. It also called on the government to make all AE default funds set the same goal. With the rise in returns in ESG funds, then the momentum created by insurers backing out of coal should hasten now that ethical investment is squarely part of the news cycle.
Are we therefore on the cusp of change, as the economy recovers from the pandemic and looks to mitigate further risk from the much larger threats caused by climate change? Are we at the point where those in the construction industry work closer with their partners in construction insurance to improve the risk dynamics to educate any stakeholders whether they be builders or owners? This process can be seen to have begun, with the body that represents the use of engineered wood systems, The Structural Timber Association (STA), publishing ‘16 steps to fire safety for structural timber buildings under construction’. The document promotes best practice on construction sites, and whilst it is aimed at timber frame developments over 600m2 it is relevant for all timber-frame sites.
The 16 steps to fire safety include:
- The Fire Safety Co-ordinator – Appoint a responsible person to co-ordinate site fire safety
- The Site Fire Safety Plan – Carry out a fire risk assessment, write a site fire safety plan and review as construction progresses
- Checks, inspections and tests throughout construction – Record and undertake fire drills, security and firefighting equipment checks
- Communication and liaison – Inform the fire service and, for large sites, the police that a project is being undertaken
- Fire detection and warning – Adopt an appropriate method of raising the alarm, which may require the use of automatic fire warning devices
- First aid firefighting – Install portable fire extinguishers at appropriate locations and ensure sufficient site staff are trained to use them
- Emergency escape routes – Provide, where possible, a minimum of two clearly marked and accessible escape routes, which comply with the appropriate travel distances for site workmen and visitors
- Build in fire protection along the way – Install the STA guidelines’ vertical fire breaks and where possible design, plan and install fire protection as the building progresses
- Site security against arson – All sites should be enclosed and made secure with appropriate security measures.
- Safe storage of materials (including flammable liquids and LPG) – All sites should have appropriate storage for construction materials
- A ‘no smoking’ site – No smoking within or close to the building
For a full copy of the document, or for further details on these and other measures you need to put in place to minimise the risk of fire on construction sites, register to download here
16 Steps to Fire Safety guide