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October 2014: Hot Work

Uncontrolled hot work is a leading ignition source for fires in commercial buildings. You may think that hot work operations are well controlled at your facility since you have a permit system in place. However, a lot of facilities could improve their hot work programs.

The first item that should always be done is to check is whether a safer method of completing the intended task is available. If so, then hot work should not be performed and the safer method should be used.

A frequent misconception is that hot work is only welding. Hot work includes any work that uses an open flame or produces sparks. In other words, operations like sweating a pipe and grinding are also considered hot work.

Precautions to take for hot work operations are also not fully understood. One item often missed is clearing combustibles for 35 ft. (11 m) around the work area. This means that all combustibles within a 35 ft. radius of the work area should be removed. If relocating combustibles is not practical, then combustibles should be protected by a listed welding curtain, welding blanket, or welding pad. Make sure that the edges are tight or overlapped to stop sparks from entering.

Personnel sometimes view combustibles as only paper or wood. Items such as plastics, fabrics, many powders, etc. are also combustible. Thus, it is important to ensure that personnel understand what items are combustible and must be addressed.

The fire watch position on permits is often not understood. The fire watch position should be that person's only duty. This person should: have an appropriate fire extinguisher ready if needed; scan the area to ensure that combustibles are not introduced to the area once the work starts; scan the area for any smoldering, smoke, and any other signs of fire; and take appropriate actions as needed.

Hot work permits have a list of precautions to take. This list should be used as a checklist to ensure that the corrective actions for the area have been taken to make it safe for hot work. Additionally, personnel completing each position on the permit should be signing the designated areas of the permit to document completion of these tasks.

Plant personnel should issue hot work permits and verify the area has been properly arranged for hot work – not just hand the permit to a contractor to fill out.

Additionally, permits should not be issued for longer than a single work day, as conditions can change between the time the workers stop hot work operations for the day and restart the following day.

You may also notice that the use of a hot work permit is not needed if you set up a designated area for hot work. This makes conducting hot work more convenient. However, properly setting up a designated hot work area is more involved than just putting welding equipment and a metal table in the corner of a room. These designated areas should be arranged to meet the requirements of the permit. As such, combustibles should be at least 35 ft. away or separated from the work area by a fire barrier.

Risk Logic can help ensure that hot work is properly controlled at your facility. Please contact us for additional information.