Understanding the risks of hot work

It goes without saying that fire prevention should be at the core of every business’ risk management strategy. Hot work is an integral part of many construction or maintenance projects, and with it comes multiple hazards that need to be managed, so it’s important to ensure your clients are fully aware of these risks. At Aviva, our team of risk consultants are on hand to support your clients whose operations regularly operate using hot work and to mitigate those associated hazards effectively.

“Whilst COVID-19 continues to dominate the headlines and the effects it has had on businesses it's easy to lose the focus on the ‘normal’ losses, those incidents that can and will occur if we're not diligent in our approach to risk management. Hot work is one of those causes of fire that we continue to see. With the right focus and understanding of the risks, it's completely avoidable in my opinion. We have developed education material, including a risk management guide, loss prevention standards and a podcast to support this understanding and are pleased to announce the launch of a new E-Learning module via our partner in the learning management space, EdApp. We're also great supporters of the use of thermographic cameras and their use in hot work operations and we will be launching a new Site Induction Tool in co-operation with the Fire Protection Association and the RISCAuthority.” – Chris Andrews, Director of Aviva Risk Management Solutions

What is hot work?

Hot work is one of the few occasions in which heat, sparks or naked flames are intentionally introduced into the workplace, making it a high-risk activity that needs to be managed and controlled effectively. Common hot work activities include anything that uses:

  • gas and electric welding and cutting equipment
  • blow lamps and blow torches
  • electric or gas hot air guns, heaters or blowers
  • bitumen and tar boilers
  • angle grinders and grinding wheels
  • brazing and soldering equipment
  • drills
  • any other equipment that can produce a spark, frictional heat or flame.

What are the associated risks?

The use of hot work in any capacity always carries hazards. This includes sparks, excessive heat, conduction, flammable gases and swarf. Working with any kind of ignition, greatly increases the risk of fire and therefore injury, death and damage to property. Hot work activities may ignite adjacent or unseen material, heat may be conducted away from the working area by metal components and sparks, or hot metal may travel a long distance while retaining the potential to ignite combustible materials. Many losses and injuries associated with hot work occur as a result of poor planning, risk assessments, or supervision. That’s why it’s so important for your clients and their staff to fully understand what hot works are and the hazards they impose on their work environment.

What procedures and controls do businesses need in place?

Whilst hot work should be considered a last resource and only authorised where a safer method is unavailable, the good news is that the risks of hot work can be greatly reduced if the correct assessment procedures and controls are in place. This would include:

  • formal procedures – which apply to employees as well as contractors
  • the hot work permit- it’s essential that people who are nominated to authorise hot work have experience or training in the associated hazards. The hot work permit should be completed and issued based on method statements and fire risk assessment for the works as well as a physical inspection of the work equipment and the area, immediately prior to the work commencing. You can learn more about permits in our hot work podcast
  • briefing and training - everyone who is required to sign or abide by the conditions of a permit must receive an appropriate briefing or training
  • spot checks and audits – including completed permits, training records and public liability insurances
  • managing contractors – checking the competency wherever contractors or sub-contractors are used.

The importance of the risk assessment

Before undertaking any kind of hot work, you should be aware of the importance of a robust risk assessment. When reviewing the proposed works, the fire risk assessment should reveal issues that could lead to injury or the likelihood of a damage to equipment or property should a fire occur. It’s important to think about should a fire occur, where the fire could spread to, whether there are combustible materials or construction nearby and who else on the premises needs to be notified. For more details on how to implement your risk assessment, including information on how to review the works, investigate the work area, and deciding whether it’s safe to proceed, or information about hot work permits, read our ‘Hot Work Operations’ Loss Prevention Standard.

The criticality of the fire watch

You should be familiar with the hot work hazards to know when things don’t look quite right. Having someone on hand to oversee the hot works is therefore essential. That person completing the fire watch must have the confidence and authority to stop work if unsafe conditions develop, be familiar with the fire alarm locations and emergency notification procedures. They should be trained in the use of fire extinguishers or hose reels which are available. If the area of work is large, multi-levelled or congested, additional fire watchers may be needed. The fire watch doesn’t finish when the hot work ceases, it should be continuous for at least an hour after and subject to intermittent checks thereafter for a period determined by the risk assessment (a minimum of one hour but in many cases can be much longer).

Thermographic cameras

We’re always looking into the latest innovations and technology to better support our customers. Thermographic cameras are a great tool that can be used to manage risk and identify any particular areas of concern. Implementing them as part of your hot work controls is a very effective way to compare images and ensure the thermographic signatures match pre- and post work. To learn more about how to use a thermographic camera effectively, read our Hot Work guide.

For more information, read our Commercial Hot Work Guide, or refer to our  ‘Hot Work Operations’ Loss Prevention Standard. If you’re on the go, listen to our Hot Work podcast.

You can also visit our Risk Management website.