Hot work permit: why it’s necessary

Hot works are one of the leading causes of fires in commercial or industrial buildings currently being experienced in the insurance sector.

The definition of hot work is any activity involving open flames, or an activity that produces heat or sparks that may start a fire or cause an explosion. A hot works permit is required for any grinding, soldering, torch cutting, brazing or welding labour as well as for any electrical work in an area with a flammable atmosphere.

Requirements of a hot works permit

A competent person must complete a hot work permit, after inspecting the site to establish its fire watch precautions. The fire watch area comprises the area where the work is taking place, along with the floors above and below. A fire extinguisher or a charged hose must be available nearby. The person acting as the fire watch should be trained to use the fire extinguisher correctly and sound the fire alarm when necessary. It is important that the fire watch is present during the entire time that the work is being done, even when work stops temporarily for a break or any other reason. Their duties extend until 30 minutes after the work is completed.

Every factory should have at least one designated person responsible for actively supervising any dangerous activities of this nature. This includes a strictly controlled hot work permit system.

Welding as a cause of fire

Fires caused by welding operations are easy to identify, especially when compared to large fires where the cause may be unknown or undetermined, so it seems as though a lot of fires in industrial or commercial complexes are caused by welding. However, this type of fire is often caused by negligent and reckless contractors. One such case illustrates an incident where a welder stood on an empty petrol drum. The sparks from the torch fell into the drum, resulting in an explosion that killed him.

There are a number of factors that can result in a fire when welding or cutting.

  • Contractors not being as cautious as plant personnel due to the unfamiliar premises and its hazards.
  • Welding visors or goggles preventing the operator from seeing where the sparks fall.
  • Failure to remove or cover all combustible elements near the area where welding or cutting is taking place.
  • Not checking for flammable materials on the reverse side of the object or area being welded.
  • The absence of fire-fighting equipment in the vicinity of welding operations. 

Safety measures

There are very important precautionary measures that should be taken to ensure the safety of the area, as well as the safety of contractors and other personnel.

  • No welding appliance can be moved from the workshop area to another part of the factory without permission from the designated official. This official should ensure that precautionary measures are always taken.
  • The area where hot work will be carried out must be thoroughly inspected.
  • All combustible material in the vicinity must be removed, restrained or properly protected. Furthermore, the designated fire watch person must meticulously check for any openings or cracks below the working area, which may cause sparks to ignite materials at lower levels.
  • Outside contractors must be given strict instructions as to the required procedures and any areas that are specifically dangerous must be pointed out to them.
  • Fire extinguishers and hose-reels must be provided near the area of welding or cutting operations and operators must be trained to handle the fire-fighting equipment.
  • It is advisable that someone stand by with a fire extinguisher when welding or cutting operations are taking place in or near particularly dangerous areas.
  • The welding trolley should be fitted with a small fire extinguisher.
  • Regular maintenance of all equipment is essential. Tubing that leaks, valves and regulators that fit badly, and loose connections can cause a fire. 
  • Empty drums that used to contain flammable liquids should not be stored anywhere near the area where welding or cutting is taking place. Such containers must be thoroughly degassed – ideally with steam – before they are welded or cut.
  • Buildings where welding or cutting will take place should be well ventilated so that any flammable or explosive gases and vapours do not accumulate.