Steps for Avoiding the Next Fire Caused by Hot Work

Raymond O’Brocki

August 24, 2021

It’s often said that “the devil is in the details.” This old idiom is something I’ve come to appreciate during my career in fire safety because paying attention to details can make all the difference in mitigating risk and avoiding costly damage and destruction.

I’d like to think we can agree as well that the devil can also reside in the data, especially when it comes to construction site fires attributable to Hot Work activities.

Consider the most recent statistics for Hot Work-caused fires compiled by the National Fire Protection Association. In its June 2021 report, NFPA found that fires sparked by welding torches, soldering equipment, burners, heat treatment gear, cutting torches, among others, were blamed for 4,580 structure fires between 2014-2018. By far, welding and cutting torches accounted for the majority of fires.

Additionally, these fires (not all of which occurred on construction sites) caused an average of 22 civilian deaths and 171 civilian injuries per year and $484 million in direct property damage per year.

But losses of human life and property can be reduced by adopting and emphasizing best management practices for performing Hot Work on construction sites, requiring site supervisors to include Hot Work guidelines in fire safety plans and committing to a training and monitoring plan.

We’ve devoted a lot of resources to Hot Work safety on this website, including this handy tip sheet.  It covers the spectrum of precautions and risk mitigation measures, from obtaining appropriate permitting for hot work to fire watch surveys of the hot work area for as much as 30 minutes after the conclusion of the day’s work.

The NFPA also updated its Hot Work Safety fact sheet earlier this year. The organization encourages a “Recognize, Evaluate and Control” process to reduce hot work hazards and risks.

  • Recognize: Determine if fire risks exist even before any hot work commences on a project site.
  • Evaluate: Determine if hazards are present, especially flammable and combustible liquids, gases or simple combustibles. I think this is a critical step to take and we advise moving combustible materials, vapors, dusts at least 35 feet from the worksite, and storing oxygen and fuel gas cylinders separately.
  • Control: Take appropriate steps to eliminate or minimize the hazards.

One of the most critical elements of any hot work strategy is communicating the safety and precaution measures to the crew on site. This includes training Hot Work operators on proper equipment management, handling and storage of welding materials, gas safety, chemical hazards and safety procedures. It’s also critical to outfit Hot Work operators in safety equipment and proper attire for the job.

Finally, there is the importance of permitting. On sites where Hot Work is performed, site managers are responsible for ensuring that adequate control and procedures are in place before work begins.

The beauty of creating a hot work permit program brings me back to the beginning – the importance of details. Obtaining a Hot Work permit provides those conducting hot work a built-in checklist of steps and daily risk mitigation, and truly sets the stage for establishing a culture of safety and awareness within the Hot Work zones.

For more information on Hot Work safety for construction sites, consider this comprehensive manual here on our website.