Hot works is a term used to describe any construction or maintenance process that involves the use of open flames or which generates significant heat or sparks. As we will explore in this picture gallery, each of these processes presents a potentially serious fire hazard if the risks are not carefully managed.
Common hot works processes include welding, soldering, grinding and torch cutting. While it is always preferable for such processes to take place in a workshop or other setting designed specifically for this purpose, the reality is that in many construction or maintenance projects that involve hot works – roofing work for example – this is rarely possible.
As well as the obvious risks to human health, accidents involving hot works have the potential to cause significant damage to property, resulting in substantial losses. Sparks and embers can travel significant distances in very little time, causing fires that are extremely difficult to bring under control. In addition, there is also a risk of explosions whenever hot works take place in the vicinity of flammable liquids and gases.
The potential for sparks to spread rapidly over a wide area is one of the key reasons hot works presents a significant fire risk. There have been a number of serious fires resulting from the rapid spread of sparks during roofing work, including two in the summer of 2016 which destroyed several school buildings in the south-east of England. The construction methods and materials used may also influence the size of losses from fires involving hot works. For example, if a building has internal structures with large voids, fires can spread rapidly and undetected. (Photo courtesy of Ridge and Partners LLP)
Many fires involving hot works result from a failure to observe basic safety procedures, for example ensuring that a fire watch is in operation at all times, that all combustible materials are cleared from surrounding areas before work begins and that a final site inspection is carried out at the end of each working day to check for any signs of embers or other hazards. (Photo courtesy of Ridge and Partners LLP)
Before undergoing any hot works, organisations should first consider whether there are any alternative processes that could achieve the same result without generating significant heat or sparks, for example cold cutting or hand filing. If hot works are unavoidable, it is important to conduct a thorough risk assessment, which should form part of a Hot Work Permit System.
Hot work permits, which are valid for a maximum of one working day, should detail the exact nature of the work being undertaken, all hazards identified and actions taken to remove or remedy them and all site inspection and emergency procedures. Even if a project is being managed by contractors, it is vital organisations make regular site inspections to ensure contractors are adhering to the hot work permit.
If your organisation is planning a project involving hot works, we want to support you in managing the associated risks. Contact your Risk and Insurance Consultant or underwriting contact to let them know of any planned developments, and forward this picture gallery to colleagues responsible for managing contractor relationships when works are in progress. Read our Hot Works Whitepaper for further information.