Managing hot work risks
In this article we examine how to manage hot work risks before, during and after working with an open flame.
Managing the risks relating to hot work is key to preventing fires from breaking out.
Working with an open flame, for instance when heating, welding, cutting/soldering, or when conducting maintenance, repairing or installation work – all of which generate an excess amount of heat – pose risks that must be considered before the work begins. As an example, construction sites around the world should be aware of the risks, especially when inexperienced workers and contractors pick up a blow torch.
According to Pekka Sarpila, Head of Risk Management Services Finland at If, “We have many examples of well-prepared hot work tasks, where careful preparation helped to prevent a fire from spreading thanks to capable workers planning for potential risks.
Unfortunately, we also have examples that are the opposite. The number one priority must always be to prevent a fire from starting. If that happens, something has already gone wrong.”
Failure to implement the simplest safety measures can result in expensive claims, impact business operations, cause project delays, and in the worst-case scenarios, lead to loss of life. Many of the claims are connected to workers who were looking to ‘cut corners’.
Preventing losses and reducing the risks
Companies are at significant risk of a severe incident when hot work tasks are executed incorrectly, resulting in expensive property damage or even death. Despite local regulations, industry standards and on-site guidelines, it is common to find that these are often ignored, too limited in scope, and/or they feature little to no control measures.
There are some simple steps that should be considered before hot work activities start:
- Check whether hot work can be avoided. Is there a safer method, for example machining or joining? Is it possible to move the object in question to a specialised workshop, or outside to be completed at a safe distance from other risk sources?
- Check the area beforehand. When hot work is undertaken in a non-designated area, typically outside a dedicated workshop, it needs to be controlled carefully. Combustible materials and flammable liquids, dust and waste should be removed.
- Check the area thoroughly. One common error is to neglect the protection of hidden spaces, such as wooden constructions, ventilation and extraction ducts and pipes, when beginning hot work. Such areas should always be protected when necessary.
- Check your equipment. Make sure that all hot work equipment is in good working condition and approved for use.
- Plan how you will contain a fire if an accident occurs. The required extinguishing equipment should be available at both temporary and permanent hot work sites and locations. Do your workers know where this equipment is located? Are they trained to use it?
- Be sure to regularly check that the sprinkler system is fully operational.
- It is important to make sure there are separate fire guards appointed, both when work is ongoing and for adequate time after the work is finished, and that guarding is continuous.
The importance of fire guards and extinguishers
Peter Rasmussen, Senior Claims Advisor at If, supports the above safety measures and emphasises the importance of having enough fire guards and extinguishers available to extinguish a fire spreading in dusty and spiderweb-filled areas under an existing built-up roof.
Explains Rasmussen, “When visiting a site following an accident or incident with hot work, the most common issues are often that guidelines of DBI, The Danish Institute of Fire and Security, have not been applied properly. However, we do also have fires where there is no causation between the guidelines applied and the fire. Hot work is by nature risky, especially on repairs of built-up roofs.”
Similar guidelines exist across all Nordic countries, and a hot work permit is required for persons executing hot work tasks. There are also requirements for permitting procedures which need to be adhered to.
A hot-work procedure should cover what is needed before, during and after the work, and this is the key to managing the risks involved with these tasks. The procedures should include training of personnel, risk assessments, hot work permits and fire watchers, among other factors. Having a systematic approach will considerably reduce the probability of a fire event and hence reduce the risk of loss, which can result in a long interruption to business operations, with potentially very large consequences for the company.