WorkSafe recently issued a safety alert about the risks associated with hot works, after a fire was started. The fire started while bolts were being cut with an oxy-acetylene torch during maintenance activities.
Hot work is any work that has the potential to ignite nearby combustible, flammable or explosive material.
Common hot work tasks include welding, cutting, grinding and heat treatment, and hot work processes can create hazards such as:
- Fire: caused by heat, molten metal, sparks or direct contact with cutting or welding flames.
- Explosions: caused by the presence of gas, liquid vapours or suspended flammable dust.
- Toxic fumes: generated directly from the hot work process or through heat decomposition of nearby material(s).
These hazards create a serious risk to workers health and safety that can lead to injury, illness and death.
For example, burns from heat radiation or contact with flames, sparks, molten metal or hot surfaces, and exposure to hazardous fumes.
Hot work processes have the potential to ignite fires that can travel beyond site boundaries. Fires may also start well after the completion of any hot work activities due to residual heat.
The Australian Standard AS/NZS 1674.1:1997 – Safety in welding and allied processes Part 1: Fire Precautions may be of benefit when identifying and controlling risks.
I recommend a number of control measures be put in place when undertaking hot works:
- Identify any potentially flammable or combustible materials in the area, such as rubbish, dust, oils, grease, rubber, plastics, or other substances that could be potential fuel sources or generate dust explosions.
- Remove any flammable or combustible material in the area. If materials cannot be removed use flameproof covers or screens or wet the materials down before and during the work.
- Ensure the area is adequately ventilated.
- Assign a designated fire watch person to monitor the hot work environment.
- Conduct post-work inspections for smouldering material prior to leaving the area. For example, before a break, at the end of a shift or at the completion of work.
- Ensure adequate firefighting equipment is available and ready for use.
- Identify and establish suitable exclusion zones for personnel and vehicles.
- Ensure workers are wearing appropriate non-flammable personal protective equipment.
- Establish and train all personnel on emergency and evacuation procedures.
My number one tip is to develop a procedure for hot works which covers off on what hot work includes and what precautions are to be required when undertaking hot works.
I would also include a list of high-risk areas such as confined or enclosed spaces.