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Written by
on 24 April 2019


All eyes were on the Notre Dame fire which gutted the historic Cathedral in Paris. Hundreds of years worth of history were engulfed in flames as the blaze tore through the church building.

The investigation into the cause of the Notre Dame fire may take months to complete, but already several plausible theories have begun to emerge. Even as we await a final verdict on how the fire started, there are lessons for every business that can be applied right now.

Emergency escape plans worked perfectly

Despite the severity of the fire and the extensive damage caused, there have been no reported casualties or deaths. Obviously, the time of day helped significantly, because the fire started outside normal opening hours.

However, Cathedral staff and security were on-site, working to remove precious artefacts. It is clear that there was a protocol in place for dealing with fire – and that this emergency plan worked perfectly, keeping employees safe despite the risks they faced.

Key takeaway: Ensure you have an emergency plan in place to deal with potential fires on your property. You must also routinely practice and refine the plan to verify it will work in the event of a real fire.

End of day procedures may have been missed

Early in the investigation process, there were suggestions that some of the open-flame equipment used in repairing the roof of the Cathedral may not have been properly extinguished. Some commentators suggested that the end-of-day shutdown routine had not been fully completed, creating the conditions where a serious fire could start.

Key takeaway: End-of-day shutdown routines exist for a reason; to prevent life-threatening situations developing on-site overnight. You should adjust your shutdown routines to include a secondary check by a supervisor or manager to ensure that procedures are being properly completed.

Routine checks were not completed

Another suggestion put forward for the cause of the fire has been an electrical fault on the lift used by construction workers to reach the roof. A wiring fault could easily create a short circuit and resulting spark, enough to ignite inflammable materials on the Cathedral roof.

Key takeaway: Electrical faults will normally be identified during installation and testing. Nevertheless, you must schedule and carry out routine testing of electrical systems to ensure that integrity has not been compromised during day-to-day operations on-site.

The fire was started deliberately

As with any serious incident at a major global landmark, there is always the potential that a fire was started deliberately. Whether through arson or terrorism, it is possible that the blaze at Notre Dame was a pre-planned act of destruction.

Key takeaway: In incidents of arson, the fire is almost always started by an unknown third party. It is absolutely vital then that safeguards like fences and doors are properly secured to prevent unauthorised entry to your site. Checking security measures must be a part of your daily shut-down routine.

We’re here to help

Whether you are working on a world-famous landmark, or a routine house building project, there is always the risk of a devastating fire breaking out on site. The suggestions outlined here will help you avoid a similar incident on your projects – and help to ensure your employees and the general public are kept safe too.

For more help and advice on creating fire risk assessments that properly reduce the chances of fires breaking out on your worksite, please get in touch.


A chartered (fellow) safety and risk management practitioner with 20+ years of experience. David provides a healthy dose of how-to articles, advice and guidance to make compliance easier for construction professionals, Architects and the built environment. Get social with David on Twitter and Linkedin.

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