How to Prepare for Hot Work

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Hot work includes brazing, torch cutting, grinding, torch soldering, thermal spraying, thermite welding, thawing pipes, and installation of torch-applied roofing and welding. This type of hot work generates heat, hot slag, and sparks that can ignite combustible and flammable materials that are not properly protected. The potential fire hazard may not be apparent due to concealed areas, crawl spaces, wall assemblies, and substructure spaces near the location where the hot work is being done. When it comes to fire losses, missteps around hot work are more common than one might expect and can lead to significant damage and property claims. According to an Iowa State University’s Hot Work Permit Program Manual, the U.S. averaged 12,630 hot work fires, $309 million in property damage, and 31 deaths per year. 

Before beginning hot work, ask your employees and contractors:

  • Does everyone understand the scope of the hot work?
  • Have all affected employees been notified?
  • Has the fire watch been assigned?
  • Has the required permit been filled out?
  • Has someone inspected the area where the hot work is being done?
  • Have all flammable and combustible materials been removed from the area?
  • Has the area been inspected to make sure no flammable vapors are present?
  • Is a dry chemical fire extinguisher available?
  • Have immovable objects been covered with a non-combustible material?
  • Do employees know to immediately stop hot work if conditions change or odors become present until the area has been re-inspected?

The U.S. Chemical Safety and Hazard Investigation Board (CSB) makes the following recommendations* based on their many investigations of hot work fires and related injuries:

1. Use alternatives – Whenever possible, avoid hot work and consider alternative methods. These include Pro-Press and water-jet cutting.

2. Analyze the hazards – Prior to the initiation of hot work, perform a hazard assessment that identifies the scope of the work, potential hazards, and methods of hazard control.

3. Monitor the atmosphere – Conduct effective gas monitoring in the work area using a properly calibrated combustible gas detector prior to and during hot work activities, even in areas where a flammable atmosphere is not anticipated.

4. Test the area – In work areas where flammable liquids and gases are stored or handled, drain and/or purge all equipment and piping before hot work is conducted. When welding on or in the vicinity of storage tanks and other containers, properly test and, if necessary continuously monitor all surrounding tanks or adjacent spaces (not just the tank or container being worked on) for the presence of flammables and eliminate potential sources of flammables.

5. Use written permits – Ensure that qualified personnel familiar with the specific site hazards review and authorize all hot work and issue permits specifically identifying the work to be conducted and the required precautions.

6. Train thoroughly – Train personnel on hot work policies/procedures, proper use and calibration of combustible gas detectors, safety equipment, and jobspecific hazards and controls in a language understood by the workforce.

7. Supervise contractors – Provide safety supervision for outside contractors conducting hot work. Inform contractors about site-specific hazards, including the presence of flammable materials.

Recognizing the dangers presented by hot work—and especially hot work performed by contractors—is critical. Let’s stay proactive and maintain our focus on health and safety in the workplace.

*U.S. Chemical Safety and Hazard Investigation Board (CSB), Seven Key Lessons to Prevent Worker Deaths During Hot Work In and Around Tanks Effective Hazard Assessment and Use of Combustible Gas Monitoring Will Save Lives, No. 2009-01-SB, February 2010

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  1. Marc Levine

    First, call 911. Roofing fires are difficult to put out and can smolder for hours.

    Second, have the correct fire extinguisher present. No water or carbon dioxide. Only dry chemical with an extinguisher size at least 2A20BC. That is the minimum size required by OSHA for a fire watch. The extinguisher must be pressurized with the needle in the green, have a pin and current inspection tag. Ensure that the roofers have the minimum training required to be fire watch and understand the PASS method (Pull the pin, Aim the hose, Squeeze the handle, Sweep back and forth). If you can’t put out the fire out with after using one or two extinguishers, then you can’t put it out at all. Wait for the professionals to do it.

  2. Tom Kahn

    I like your point about making sure the employees know to stop their work if conditions change or odors become present. The best way of stopping hot fires is knowing how to prevent them, so it’s important that everyone takes these safety precautions. Do you have any tips for stopping a hot fire once a spark is lit?

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