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Managing workplace fire risk: essentials businesses need to know

Published 18 February 2021

The use of heat in workplace processes raises the risk of fire, explosions or the generation of dangerous fumes – which can affect people, property and the surrounding environment, so a formalised safety process is essential. The following information is based on a comprehensive explanation of the need for hot work permits by our insurance partner QBE.

Hot work is any business activity that has the potential to ignite nearby combustible, flammable or explosive material. Common hot work tasks include welding, cutting, grinding and heat treatment, as well as food preparation in production and in hospitality settings. These activities have the potential to generate heat, sparks, molten metal or flames and are a major cause of fire in the workplace. The effects of hot work incidents can be highly injurious to staff and devastating to plant and property.
 

welder-hot-work-risk-management-permit

 

According to global research which reviewed over 4000 hot works fire incidents, welding torches and cutting torches were the leading causes of hot works fires in commercial settings and accounted for a combined 66% of incidents.

These incidents were not confined to a specific type of industry, such as mining or construction. Manufacturing and processing industries accounted for 25% of commercial hot works incidents, while retail, offices and storage properties made up a further 42%. 79% of fires occurred during normal operations.

Hazards generated by hot work include

  • 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 can spread fires and cause serious injuries
  • burns – from contact with flames, sparks or heated metal
  • fumes – generated directly from the hot work process or through heat decomposition of nearby material(s), may trigger explosions, deplete oxygen levels or poison workers.
     

How can hot work risks in business workplaces be managed safely?

The hot work permit system is designed to prevent any inadvertent ignition of combustible materials or fumes that may result in a fire or explosion.

The system creates a safer working environment during any hot work and includes a checklist of steps to help businesses address the exposures and controls before, during, and after hot work.

The person who reviews the system and issues the permit should hold this responsibility as an appointed role within your business, have thorough knowledge of the work site and the processes involved, and the ability to assess workplace risks and safe work practices.

Potential hazards to be assessed in conjunction with the hot work may include confined spaces, materials present or operations being undertaking at the location of the proposed hot works.

An initial work permit inspection should be conducted prior to any hot work and each permit completed as often as required (generally every 8 hours per shift). You can download a hot work permit template from the QBE website.
 

What should a hot work permit inspection cover?

A work permit inspection involves two overseers: the person who issues the permit and a trained fire watch person who monitors the work as it is carried out and maintains surveillance of the site after completion. Fire watch training includes use of fire protection equipment such as an extinguisher and hose reels.

Safe Work Australia recommends the following control measures when undertaking hot works permit inspections

  • 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 flame proof 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, eg: 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 employees are wearing appropriate non-flammable personal protective equipment
  • establish and train all personnel on emergency and evacuation procedures.

The person assigned to fire watch monitors the surrounding area continuously during the work and for 30 minutes after completion. During the next hour the fire watch monitor should conduct periodic checks every 10 to 15 minutes to ensure there’s no fire activity.


How proactive hot work safety management improves your risk profile

Making the issue of hot work permits mandatory for all activities involving heat processes demonstrates to potential insurers that you have a risk management system in place to protect your workers and property. This makes insurance cover easier to obtain and may also improve your premium outcomes.

Need helpful input? Talk to one of our business insurance specialists.
 

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Further reading

Commercial property insurance

Workplace risk


More information

Code of practice for welding processes

Australian Standard AS 1674.1 Safety in Welding and Allied Processes Part 1: Fire Precautions

NFPA research findings

 


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