CHAS outlines safety measures for ‘hot work’

CHAS outlines safety measures for ‘hot work’

Hot work fires on construction sites are on the rise. CHAS, the supply chain risk management experts, explain what you need to remember when undertaking this type of work.

More 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. The term ‘hot work’ includes welding, flame cutting, soldering, brazing, grinding and the use of other equipment incorporating a flame, such as tar boilers.

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.

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. Carefully vetting contractors from the outset is important. For one thing, it’s important to use a contractor experienced in hot works. For true peace of mind, though, the contractor 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. For example, on fire watches, it advises: “Where hot work cannot be carried out in a safe area, or where combustible material cannot be removed from the work area, a fire watch should be maintained during and after the hot work. This watch should be maintained for at least 30 minutes after the completion of the hot work, but where an unintended ignition may be difficult to detect or slow to develop, this may need to be extended to 60 minutes.”

Beyond compliance

Organisations looking to go above and beyond compliance may want to consider using thermal imaging cameras. The cameras, which cost as little as £400, could detect more hot spots before they ignite. The devices can also be used to take time-stamped photos to demonstrate fire watches have been carried out.

The insurer is also pressing for a voluntary licensing system to encourage best practice and provide peace of mind to businesses when choosing contractors. Before carrying out or supervising hot work, contractors would complete a one-day training course, giving them a licence valid for five years. The Fire Protection Association (FPA) is one body that offers a hot work passport scheme in the UK. It is designed for supervisors and operatives who carry out risk assessments to complete hot work permits. Over 2,850 hot work passports have been issued to date and it is valid for five years from the date of completion.

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