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Prioritizing Hot Work Safety: A Call to Action

Prioritizing Hot Work Safety: A Call to Action

In the recent issue of the NFPA Journal (Winter 2023), a statistical report summary titled “Structure Fires Caused by Hot Work, 2017-2021” painted an alarming picture that cannot be ignored. The data underscores a pressing need to enhance safety measures, minimize fatalities, injuries, and property losses associated with hot work operations.

The Importance of a Fire Watch

This critical analysis, provided by Mark Conroy, an engineer at Brooks Equipment Company and a member of the NFPA Technical Committee on Portable Fire Extinguishers, highlights the importance of having a fire watch present, equipped with the necessary tools to manage incipient fires effectively.

Federal OSHA regulations (1910.252) concerning welding, cutting, and brazing emphasize adherence to NFPA 51B, the Standard for Fire Prevention During Welding, Cutting, and Other Hot Work. Both sets of guidelines mandate the presence of a fire watch and the availability of fire-extinguishing equipment to address the frequent fires that arise during hot work operations. A fire watch plays a pivotal role in ensuring the maintenance of safe conditions, wielding the authority to halt operations and tackle fires as needed.

Common Pitfalls in Hot Work Safety

Despite these clear requirements, it’s not uncommon to find hot work operations lacking a fire watch or having one that is ill-prepared to manage fire emergencies. The expectation for a fire watch to rely on building-installed extinguishers meant for occupant use is flawed. This approach delays the extinguishing process, allowing fires to spread and, in many cases, necessitating intervention by fire departments—a scenario contributing significantly to the fire-loss statistics reported.

Portable fire extinguishers, designed to be within a maximum travel distance of 75 feet for Class A fires in buildings, are intended for occupant use and are not a replacement for the specialized equipment needed for hot work operations. Hot work areas require additional extinguishers nearby to ensure quick response to incipient fires, maintaining safe conditions.

A Call to Action

Mark Conroy’s call to action is clear: providing a properly equipped and trained fire watch for every hot work operation is essential in improving safety and reducing the risk of injuries, fatalities, and property losses. This perspective is not just a recommendation but a necessary step forward in addressing the concerning trends highlighted in the NFPA’s report.