Insurance company Zurich estimate that around 15% of all workplace fires are as a result of ‘hot work’. Hot work refers to work activities that involve open flames, applying heat or friction, or may generate sparks or heat.
Common examples of hot works are:
- Welding, brazing, and soldering;
- Grinding and cutting;
- The use of open flames, blow-lamps, and torches, for example when carrying out paint stripping;
- Using bitumen and tar boilers;
- The use of hot air blowers and lead heaters.
Hot works can feature in construction, renovation and maintenance activities, including planned and reactive repair works, these may be carried out by internal maintenance teams or by contractors. Particular high risk activities, where rapid fire spread can occur, include heat applied roof coverings when there are roof voids present, hot work in or on roofs, and activities such as angle grinding in proximity to combustible materials. All types of hot work can very easily start fires without due consideration and the application of appropriate safety procedures.
What then are appropriate safety procedures? Firstly determining whether hot work actually needs to be undertaken, what are the alternatives? These could be bolting rather than welding, using hand operated hydraulic shears rather than torch cutting or using cold applied roof coverings. Where hot works cannot be avoided can they be relocated outdoors or to specially designated areas that have been designed and constructed to minimise fire risk? Where hot works cannot be avoided then they must be carefully controlled.
While the activity involving hot works should be subject to risk assessment (an existing fire risk assessment is not sufficient as it will not go into the specifics of a multitude of hot working activities) and a formal safe system of work. These formal safe systems of work should include a hot work permit. A hot work permit is designed to:
- Ensure that there is a formal review confirming that safe systems of work and control measures are being followed, for example isolation of elements of the fire detection system or fire suppression systems, availability of fire extinguishers appropriate to the fire risk in the vicinity of the hot works, removal of combustible items in the vicinity of the hot works, details of any prohibited areas, and vitally ‘fire watch’ arrangements during and for a minimum of an hour after the activity (Zurich recommend the use of thermal imaging cameras as an enhancement to fire watch arrangements);
- Co-ordinate the hot work activity with other work processes or persons;
- Provide time limits when it is safe to work (a permit should only extend over single working day or shift with a new permit raised for subsequent days / shifts);
- Detail specialised PPE or methods of communication;
- Ensure that the works are properly supervised (this, again, includes fire watch arrangements) through to ultimate safety.
A hot work permit must have clear authorisation, acceptance and hand-back and cancellation arrangements. The person issuing the permit (who should never be the person undertaking the hot work activity, when a contractor is carrying out the hot works it will normally be the client who issues the permit) and the person accepting it must have a clear understanding of the risks and the precautions to be taken. Lastly the hot work permit should be straightforward and unambiguous.
Carrying out hot work activities can present significant risks however by following all necessary controls, including those set out in the hot work permit these risks will be reduced protecting people, premises and business operations.
If you have any questions on any of the issues raised in the above article, please contact Gary Foggo.