This post is part of a series sponsored by IAT Insurance Group.
When it comes to mitigating risks, control and prevention go a long way. Nowhere is this more evident than in the field of hot work.
Hot work is any work that involves flames, sparks or heat, which could ignite a fire with surrounding materials. A variety of cutting, burning and welding activities are considered hot work and are dangerous when oxygen, fuel or any other combustible material and an ignition source are in close proximity.
In the United States, an average of 4,580 hot work fires occur in structures each year, claiming 20+ lives and costing approximately $484 million in property damage.
Take precautions to prevent problems
Mitigating risks related to hot work is essential for property owners, construction managers, and even transportation or equipment companies engaged in on-site vehicle/truck maintenance, for example.
Project teams should first assess whether hot work is really necessary, or whether an alternative technique or process can be used to produce the same result. For example, new technologies now allow more mechanical pipe fitting techniques that eliminate the need for hot work.1
Still, not all hot work can be avoided. In addition to following NFPA 51B: Standard for Fire Prevention During Welding, Cutting, and Other Hot Work, here are four steps to minimize your risks when hot work is required to get the job done properly:
- Use a warm working permit. These permits document hazards and describe precautions that should be in place before any hot work begins and should be posted at work sites. Make sure the contractor or employee doing the hot work has read the regulations, understood them and signed them. You can download hot work permit forms from the National Fire Protection Association (NFPA) website.
- Plan for the hot work. Assess the environment where the hot work will be performed. Remove or protect combustible materials within 35 feet of the work area with fireproof blankets. Do not forget that heat transfer occurs through walls to combustible material that may be in the wall or on the other side.
- Keep fire extinguishers close at hand. If ignition occurs, the fire can spread quickly. If a fire extinguisher is not nearby and deployed without hesitation, the situation can get out of control very quickly, especially with a lot of combustible materials in the area.
- Stay in place and make a fire watch. Sometimes hot work fires start out as a slow burn and build slowly and go unnoticed until they are out of control because no one was monitoring the area after the work was done. Perform hot work early in the shift so employees can observe the area for at least one hour afterward to ensure no flares or fires occur.
Be proactive and hands-on with contractors
Communication is key when contractors are doing hot work on job sites. Ultimately, it is the responsibility of the property owner or project manager to meet with contractors to ensure safety measures are in place and being followed.
Do not assume that the contractor will remove combustible material and perform, for example, a fire watch. On-site owners/managers should conduct morning meetings with contractors to obtain verbal confirmation at the time that appropriate precautions will be taken and ensure a hot work permit is issued in advance. So monitor fire alarms and roll up your sleeves to help remove and protect combustible materials as needed.
Helping to control the environment in these ways when hot work is necessary will reduce your risk overall. Be present and proactive when protecting your property.
For more information on how to reduce the risks of hot work, contact IAT.
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 National Fire Protection Association (NFPA) “Hot Work Safety Fact Sheet”, April 2021.
 NFPA Today “Hot work incidents and statistics remind us of the importance of pre-incident planning and dedicated fire monitoring in chemical, industrial and manufacturing environments,” 24 September 2021.
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