I recently attended a presentation by the NFPA (National Fire Protection Association) that is now required for all participants involved in hot work processes in the city of Boston. The training is required for anyone performing hot work, acting as fire watch for hot work, or issuing or applying for a hot work permit. Whether a permit is required or not, the proper process for performing hot work and education is our responsibility to pass along in order to keep everyone safe.
The first step in the process is looking at what hot work is. We all picture hot work as sparks raining down during welding, or a demolition contractor using a torch for cutting steel, but there are many other tasks that are considered hot work. The NFPA loosely defines hot work as anything that creates an arc, a spark, a flame, or generates heat. The first three are relatively easy to capture, but we need look at “generates heat” a bit closer.
Abrasive blasting can generate enough heat to create a fire if a fuel source is present, but there is no clear line as to how much heat needs to be generated to require a permit (Boston BFD). There was discussion in the training of items such as Sawzall blades cutting steel, hammer drills being used on concrete, and dry coring – unfortunately I don’t think anyone has a clear answer, but it should force us all to think about these tasks when planning work on our construction sites.
The importance of understanding hot work and the process is not just a requirement for those doing work in Boston, but something that all of us in the industry should take advantage of. This type of training was an eye-opener to things that we could all be doing better.
When we think of hot work, we think of the welding process, which requires some level of supervision. The trades that weld typically have fire blankets, fire extinguishers, and fire watches. Can we say the same about other trades that perform hot work? Depending on where their work is done, they might not have been tasked with evaluating their work.
A few example tasks to consider evaluating potential risk associated with hot work:
- floor covers that may be using an open flame
- doing punch list repairs in a lab that may have solvents
- cutting pipe with an abrasive saw (site contractors often are surrounded only by soil so they often do not think about hot work concern), throwing sparks, possibly igniting a fuel spill from a recently filled generator
The goal of hot work procedures is not to make the work harder, but guide us all to take a few minutes and examine the operation at hand to ensure it is being completed as safely as possible.We have all had an experience on site, or heard of large fires started by construction hot work. What can we do, as an industry, to help prevent being the next story? Some ideas are as simple as making sure the tradesmen recognize the risk, having the right tools, and the right training to minimize risk. Other solutions start in the construction planning process, like using bolted connections or mechanical pipe joints instead of welding, or having metal framing cut in the factory instead of onsite. If you think about construction fire safety during your part of the hot work process, we can all make a difference in minimizing the risk.