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Top tips to reduce your hot work risk

At a glance

  • Hot work refers to any construction or maintenance process that involves the use of open flames or anything that generates significant heat or sparks
  • Our own claims data shows that across the UK, 15% of all fires in commercial and industrial properties involved hot work costing around £250m in the last three years
  • So many of the fires caused by hot works are completely avoidable and as the Scandinavian experience has shown, can be relatively easily addressed.

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According to Home Office data obtained by Zurich under a Freedom of Information Request, between January 2015 and March 2019, fire crews in England attended 1,587 construction fires, 28% of which were caused by hot work or other sources of heat.

Hot work refers to any construction or maintenance process that involves the use of open flames or anything that generates significant heat or sparks. This can include (but not limited to) welding, soldering, grinding and torch cutting.

Our own claims data shows that across the UK, 15% of all fires in commercial and industrial properties involved hot work costing around £250m in the last three years.

Hot Work Permits

It is imperative that contractors have robust controls in place for any hot work taking place, including the use of a hot work permit.

These permits help ensure that individuals involved in construction, renovation and repairs are aware of the hazards associated with hot work and that they have put measures in place to mitigate those hazards.

The permit provides a step-by-step check list for hot work fire safety and clearly lays out to contractors their fire prevention responsibilities before, during and after any hot work takes place.

We know, however, from our claims experience that sometimes the hot work permit becomes a tick box exercise. Many of the large hot work losses had hot work permits in place along with the Risk Assessment and Method Statements (RAMS).

How can your organisation avoid the common pitfalls of hot work fires?

We’ve put together these three simple steps to help improve your contractor hot work controls:

  1. Insist that contractors visit the hot work task area when completing the hot work permit
  2. Work with your contractor to identify any combustible materials, insulation, voids or floor openings within 10 metres of the hot work task area. Suitable controls can then be identified.
  3. Include in the contract that the hot work task area must never be left unattended during breaks, lunchtime or after the close of work for at least 60 minutes. Having named fire watchers ensures adequate resource is provided by the contractor.

The fire watch ensures that the area is safe and that there is no smouldering taking place which could turn into a fire later on. We have seen fires start during breaks when the area was unfortunately left unattended.

Precautionary measures

Before any hot work takes place, contractors should consider (and evidence) that alternative methods have been considered. For example, certain cutting or welding tasks could be completed 10 metres from the building, in a designated workshop or off-site.

Your organisation can also have a hot work policy that requires contractors to use alternative methods that avoid hot work. Alternatively, that they follow safe working practices such as the Safe2Torch scheme operated by the NFRC.

For work areas under the control of the contractor or for contractors who have permission to complete hot work maintenance activities there are an additional three tips to help manage the risk to your building:

  1. Introduce a hot work policy for your organisation which avoids hot work as a first measure or requires safe systems of work e.g. use of the Safe2Torch scheme
  2. Ask that photographs are taken of the task area before work starts and are emailed to the site manager and/or building manager for sign-off
  3. As well as the task area hot work permit, the task area controls can be confirmed before work takes place e.g. removing or protecting combustible insulation, blocking up floor openings or voids, erecting non-combustible shields

Fire watch & thermal cameras

The effectiveness of fire watchers can be enhanced with technology such as thermal cameras, which cost as little as £400. They can be used to monitor for temperature increases and also take photographs of the work area to evidence that the fire watch is being complied with.

  • Ask contractors to use thermal imaging cameras for the fire watch period and take photographs during this period.

Hot Work Risk Awareness

To really have a meaningful impact on hot work fire statistics, we should look to Scandinavia. Here it is a requirement that all those involved in either supervising or carrying out hot work must hold a Passport Licence to do so.

To secure a licence, it is necessary to complete a one-day training course on hot work, refreshed every five years. This simple approach has proven to be hugely effective. In Finland, where this training began in the 1980s, the number of fires caused by hot work has fallen from 40% to just 5%.

  • Request that contractors involved in supervising or carrying out hot work have completed a one-day hot work training (Passport) course.

So many of the fires caused by hot works are completely avoidable and as the Scandinavian experience has shown, can be relatively easily addressed. Adoption by contractors of a voluntary licencing scheme could see a real and meaningful reduction in so much of the unnecessary devastation to lives, businesses and communities that hot work fires cause.

For more information, please speak to your local Zurich contact.

 

Steps to take

  1. Insist that contractors visit the hot work task area when completing the hot work permit
  2. Work with your contractor to identify any combustible materials, insulation, voids or floor openings within 10 metres of the hot work task area. Suitable controls can then be identified.
  3. Include in the contract that the hot work task area must never be left unattended during breaks, lunchtime or after the close of work for at least 60 minutes. Having named fire watchers ensures adequate resource is provided by the contractor.
  4. Introduce a hot work policy for your organisation which avoids hot work as a first measure or requires safe systems of work e.g. use of the Safe2Torch scheme
  5. Ask that photographs are taken of the task area before work starts and are emailed to the site manager and/or building manager for sign-off
  6. As well as the task area hot work permit, the task area controls can be confirmed before work takes place e.g. removing or protecting combustible insulation, blocking up floor openings or voids, erecting non-combustible shields
  7. Ask contractors use thermal imaging cameras for the fire watch period and take photographs during this period.
  8. Request that contractors involved in supervising or carrying out hot work have completed a one-day hot work training (Passport) course.
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