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Hot work and the associated risks

Hot work can pose significant risks and businesses must be sure they fulfil their obligations when carrying out such tasks.

Common hot work processes include soldering, welding, cutting, and brazing, while jobs such as grinding and drilling also come under the same category when flammable materials are present.

According to The Joint Code of Practice on the Protection from Fire of Construction Sites and Buildings Undergoing Renovation, published by the RISCAuthority, Construction Federation and Fire Protection Association, a formal hot work permit procedure must be implemented to minimise the potential risk of fire caused by hot work.

Only a suitably competent person should be assigned the responsibility for issuing such permits and monitoring their use. In cases where the work is scheduled to last for several days, a specific job or no more than daily written permit needs to be issued.

Prior to the issue of a permit, it is the responsibility of the person in charge to ensure that, as far as possible, all combustible material has been relocated away from the area of the hot work process. For such material and equipment that cannot be removed, it should be covered with fire retardant tarpaulins or alternative non-combustible covers.

Equipment such as blow lamps, torches and flame guns should not be lit until required for use, and should be extinguished as soon as they have fulfilled their purpose and removed to a safe area. In no event should any such equipment be left unattended while lit, as this would represent a considerable fire risk.

Responsible persons should also ensure the provision of at least two appropriate fire extinguishers ready to be used in case a fire occurs.

The area of work should also be inspected for any holes or gaps in walls, floors or ceilings where sparks could pass through, and these should be covered by non-combustible material.

Surrounding floors and areas in close proximity to the work, such as on the other side of walls, screens or partitions, must be cleared of combustible materials as these could ignite when exposed to direct or conducted heat.

As hot work can trigger fire detection systems, these should be isolated for the duration of the work but only in the zone where the hot work process is taking place.

All areas specified in a hot work permit need to be examined one hour after completion of the work to ensure any fire risk is eliminated, including incipient burning which can occur in adjoining areas to which sparks and heat may have spread.

The RISCAuthority, Construction Federation and Fire Protection Association also stated that welding and cutting procedures should only be carried out under the supervision of trained personnel, and that flash-back arrestors must be used.

Additional guidance was given in relation to the use of tar boilers, which must be sited where spilled material can be easily controlled and at least two appropriate fire extinguishers must be on hand. As with all pieces of hot work equipment, tar boilers should not be left unattended once lit.

Following the code's advice on hot work processes is the first step in reducing the risks associated with such work, and firms must be vigilant in ensuring that all the necessary steps are taking to prevent fires, injuries and even worse resulting from hot work.

Aviva's contract works class specialist risk adviser Paul Scovell says: "Fires on construction sites especially those where modern forms of construction such as timber framing is used has resulted in significant losses to business and insurers. A primary cause of these fires has been a poor hot works regime. The implementation of the formal Hot Works Permit system is essential in reducing these losses." 

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