Claims data gathered over the years exposes a costly and dangerous trend, which continues from one year to the next. On construction sites around the world, inexperienced workers and contractors looking to cut corners continue to place companies under significant risk, when hot work tasks are executed incorrectly, resulting in expensive property damages.
Working with an open flame, for example when heating, welding, cutting/soldering, or when carrying out maintenance, repairing or installation work, all of which generate an excess amount of heat, posing risks that must be considered before the work begins.
Matti Koskenkari, Risk Engineer at If, highlights, “In general, working methods that use an open flame or can generate excessive heat or sparks pose a risk of a fire event. Special attention needs to be paid to roofing work. Hot work should never be carried out in direct contact or in close proximity to constructions, i.e. roofs, sandwich panels etc., containing combustible insulation.”
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.
What are the alternatives?
First, check whether hot work can be avoided. Is there a safer method, for instance machining or joining? Is it possible to move the object in question to a workshop or outside to be completed at a safe distance? 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.
Careful planning to limit fire incidents
A 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.
Make sure that all hot work equipment is in good working condition and approved for use. Where is the nearest fire-extinguishing equipment? Is it easily accessible and is it adequate for the purpose? Do your workers know where this equipment is located? Regularly check that the sprinkler system is fully operational.
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 have also examples that are the opposite. Number one priority must always be to prevent a fire from starting. If that happens, something has already gone wrong.”
Where is your permit?
Install a control system to all hot work tasks to increase clarity and transparency into who is allowed to conduct hot work. As an example, issuing s Hot Work Permit, unique for one single work task, to control that the work is performed as safely as possible.
Note that all hot work, conducted either by your own workforce or by external contractors, should be controlled by using the same strict procedures. If available, safety training should always be completed by persons, whether they are your own or external. Note that a certificate (sometimes called a “hot work card”) received after this training is not equivalent to a Hot Work Permit.
Know your partners and contractors
There are excellent contractors and then there are contractors who are not as competent as they should be. Make sure you know who is working on your site or project. Always use contractors who are capable and experienced with hot work. This will help you manage the risks and protect your property, as well as minimize losses. If you are unsure, consider hiring a supervisor to manage the risks involved with hot work.
Use capable and competent trainers, with the necessary certificates and accreditation to train your staff and contractors’ employees.
Ultimately, management is accountable to what is happening on their site. They should therefore have a vested interest in appointing the competent person(s) with the authority to issue permits for hot work. These can be the fire officer, the maintenance manager or comparable, capable staff member.
They should have experience and training in the risks associated with hot work (e.g. safety training) and be of a suitable status to ensure compliance with the procedures in place. The issuer of the permit should not be the same person who will carry out the actual work.
The plant responsible personnel and the person/company carrying out hot work should perform a hazard assessment (e.g. Safe job analysis) before writing the Hot Work Permit. The safety precautions based on this assessment should be clearly specified in the permit.