What is a hot works permit and why do you need one?

  • Zurich claims data reveals that hot works are responsible for up to 15% of all fires
  • A written hot work permit programme is an essential part of facility risk management
  • We explain how to implement an effective hot work permit programme

Hot work is regularly undertaken during construction and maintenance projects and is considered to be a high risk activity that requires careful and active risk management.

Over the last two years, we have seen hot work fires cause losses in excess of £250m, when taking into account both the building damage and associated loss of profits and increased costs of working.

We explain how to implement an effective hot work permit programme to effectively identify and manage the added risks that this work involves.

What is hot work?

Hot work includes any operation that uses open flames or the local application of heat and friction. Examples include:
• Welding
• Soldering
• Torch cutting
• Grinding
• Hot riveting
• Heat applied to roof coverings (particularly in relation to replacement of felt coverings on flat roofs)

It is important to be aware of the full range of activities that constitute hot works, not only those that involve open flames, and ensure that proper processes are in place to manage the additional risks that accompany them.
Please note for our school and academy customers, it is necessary to notify Zurich Municipal in advance of any hot work being carried out.

The dangers of hot work

Hot work is frequently used during construction, renovation and maintenance, including planned and emergency repair works. Areas of particularly high risk include torch applied roofing when there are roof voids present, hot work in or on roofs and plantrooms, and work such as angle grinding close to combustible materials.
Evidence also shows that one of the most common hot work activities, welding, is involved in 1,000 accidents in the UK each year, leading to around 300 serious injuries.

Creating and implementing your permit programme

Your hot work permit programme should be tailored to the needs of each specific location.
Whether hot work is being undertaken by your own staff or external contractors, hot work should always be authorised, monitored and documented.

As part of the hot work permit completion, always visit the area where the work is taking place and carry out a specific risk assessment. This assessment will identify any floor openings that need protecting with non-combustible sheets, any combustible insulation material, especially for heritage buildings as combustible insulation in roof voids is often difficult to spot – in these circumstances banning hot work in or on heritage roofs is considered necessary. Many fire losses have occurred when unidentified combustible insulation has been ignited.

Make sure your contractor takes photographs of the area before work commences to ensure that they are complying with the requirements and controls of the hot work permit.

The site assessment must be conducted by a person with the appropriate knowledge, training and experience, with awareness of the associated hazards and control measures. It is best to assume that contractors do not know your building construction, including the presence of any voids or floor openings.

Ideally, establish a designated hot work area at least 10 metres away from the building and other combustible materials, or inside if the premises are equipped with suitable hot work facilities. Alternatively, select cold working techniques that avoid angle grinding, welding or other hot work that can create sources of ignition.

Complete a risk assessment of your building and site to align with the following three categories and plot them on a site map or plan:

1. Designated areas – permanent places specifically designed and intended for hot work
2. Non-designated areas – places not designed for hot work, where a written permit is required
3. Prohibited areas – places where hot works should never be permitted. These can include areas featuring fast-burning construction materials, such as polystyrene or combustible insulation, or where other combustible liquids, gases or dusts are stored or used with no reasonable means of removing them.

Managing the hot work permit process

It is recommended that your written hot work permit programme details the following process, and that management carries out regular checks throughout the duration of the hot works, to verify that staff, contractors and sub-contractors are all following the programme:

1. Try and select less hazardous work methods
2. Develop an organisational policy for hot work
3. Check worker qualifications including membership of trade organisations, details of their public liability insurance and whether any conditions apply to hot work
4. Carry out a specific work area risk assessment before work starts including photographs
5. Ensure authorisation to perform hot works via a hot work permit
6. Ensure worker acknowledgement of the controls needed
7. Designate fire watchers for both breaks during the day and the final fire watch
8. Conduct periodic work area inspections
9. Complete a fire watch (normally 60 minutes) and take photographs, both visual and using a thermal camera
10. Permit close out by an authorised individual

Each element of the process is explained fully in our Risk Topics guidance note, which can be found in the download section.

Carefully review contractors’ terms

If undertaking larger projects, it is likely that the lead contractor will require you to sign a contract. It is common practice for some contracts to stipulate that insurance is taken out in the joint name of you and your contractor.

While joint name policies can have benefits for both parties, they also have important implications for how potential negligence claims are handled, in particular your insurer’s ability to recover damages from a negligent contractor who is named jointly.

If offered a contract that includes reference to joint names, it is important to seek legal advice to understand the implications concerning your rights of recovery and insurance arrangements prior to any agreement being reached.

For more information on managing hot works risks, please see our in-depth guide to hot works safety.

You can also find out more and access helpful guides and insight with our Fire Risk Resource.