The heat is on M

ore than a quarter of all accidental fires on construction sites are sparked by ‘hot

work’, according to Freedom of Information data obtained by insurer Zurich. Combustible materials can be easily ignited

by a stray spark and cause serious harm to buildings and people. It also leads to millions of pounds worth of damage each year, not to mention reputational damage. It is therefore vital that your workplace

establishes a suitable safe working system for hot work before people carry it out.

WHAT IS HOT WORK? The term ‘hot work’ refers to tasks involving the use of open flames, the application of heat or in some cases friction, which may potentially lead to the generation of sparks or heat. The British Standards Institute (BSI) defines

‘hot work’ in BS 9999 as “any procedure that might involve or have the potential to generate sufficient heat, sparks or flame to cause a fire”. It includes welding, flame cutting, soldering,

brazing, grinding and the use of other equipment incorporating a flame, such as tar boilers.

RISKS Hot work can harm people by causing burns, illness due to fumes, eye damage from debris, or hearing loss due to noise. However, the most common and significant risk of hot work is fire. Home Office data obtained by Zurich under

Freedom of Information shows that between January 2015 and March 2019, fire crews in England attended 1,587 construction fires – of which 28 per cent were caused by hot work, or other sources of heat. The insurer’s own claims data shows that 15 per

cent of the total cost of all UK fires in commercial and industrial properties involve hot work. Fire hazards posed by hot work include flying


Hot work fires are on the rise. Ian McKinnon, managing director of CHAS, the supply chain risk management experts, explains what you need to remember when undertaking this type of work

sparks; heat conduction when working on pipes; flammable swarf, molten metals, slag, cinder and filings; hot surfaces; and explosive atmospheres. Areas of particularly high risk include torch-

applied roofing, where there are roof voids present and work such as angle grinding close to combustible materials. BS 9999 states that “hot work should only be

undertaken if no satisfactory alternative method is feasible”. Every possible alternative for completing a task should therefore be considered before deciding to proceed with hot work.

HOT WORK PERMITS If hot work on a construction site is unavoidable, a hot work permit is required for any temporary operation involving open flames or producing heat and/or sparks. Issued for a maximum of one day by a

competent and authorised person before work begins, the permit will detail who will be carrying out the work (staff or contractors); what the work will involve; hazards identified and actions taken to remove them (e.g. flammable liquids, combustible materials); fire watch procedures; site inspection procedures; and emergency procedures. The use of a permit system provides a formal

means of recording the findings and authorisations required to undertake hot work. It is an extension of the safe system of work –

it does not, by itself, make the job safe. Organisations must therefore have robust procedures for ensuring that contractors adhere to the hot work permit. According to Zurich, an organisation can only

have oversight of the hot work permit system if it has somebody physically on site. It is also vital to identify the right person within an organisation to monitor the performance of the hot works permit system. Carefully vetting contractors from the outset

is important too. For one thing, it is important to use a contractor experienced in hot works. For true peace of mind, though, the contrac- tor should be accredited by a recognised health and safety scheme such as CHAS, The Contractors’ Health and Safety Assessment Scheme, to demonstrate that their workers are trained to safely use hot work equipment.

BEST PRACTICE Guidance from the Health & Safety Executive (HSE) details many of the areas seen on checklists for hot work permits – from the importance of good housekeeping to fire watch procedures. For example, on the importance of good

housekeeping with regards to welding, the HSE states: “Clear away wood, fabric, cardboard and other flammable material before starting a welding job. Heat, sparks and drips of metal and slag can travel a considerable distance and


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