Hot work incidents and statistics remind us of the importance of pre-incident planning and a dedicated fire watch in chemical, industrial, and manufacturing settings
Nearly 14 months after the explosion in the Port of Beirut, many questions remain about the catastrophic disaster but one thing we know is that hot work acted as the ignition source for the epic chain of events. And, in its wake, 218 were killed, more than 7,000 were injured, over 70,000 apartments were impacted, and at least 300,000 residents were forced to look for housing. One little spark created devastation to the tune of 3.8-4.6 billion, per the World Bank. On August 8, welding contractors went to hangar 12 in the Beirut port to repair a broken door and a hole in an exterior wall where Lebanese officials had stored 2,750 tons of confiscated ammonium nitrate and a large supply of fireworks. Sparks from their hot work set the nearby firework supply on fire and prompted the ammonium nitrate to explode in a manner that shocked the world. An event of that magnitude is rare and stands as a fascinating case study for the NFPA Fire & Life Safety Ecosystem, but the incident and its aftermath prove that hot work can result in some very real, costly, and heartbreaking outcomes. Hot work includes cutting, welding, brazing, soldering, grinding, drilling, chipping, blasting, heat-treating, thawing pipes, roof application, or making repairs with tar pots and kettles. NFPA research estimates that, in the United States alone, fire departments respond to an average of 4,580 structure fires involving hot work each year with 57% of incidents occurring in non-residential settings. Beyond the associated costs related to property loss, business continuity, and displaced occupants – there is also the human toll. In the U.S., an average of 22 civilian deaths, 171 civilian injuries, and $484 million in property damage is incurred per year from hot work. Nearly 60 years ago, NFPA released its hot work standard - NFPA 51B, Standard for Fire Prevention During Welding, Cutting, and Other Hot Work and OSHA valued the benchmarks within the standard so much that they incorporated it into general industry regulations for welding, cutting, and brazing (29 CFR 1910.252). Hazard recognition is the first hot work safety implementation step regardless of the environment. The process of identifying hazards begins with an understanding of the work being done and a commitment to avoid hot work-caused fire. Managing the job site during hot work is the responsibility of the fire watch, who is charged with monitoring conditions; noting any deviations from those initially permitted; and stopping work. The fire watch is responsible for completing incident reports too. With the adoption of the 2019 edition of NFPA 51B, the fire watch must also remain for at least 60 minutes following the completion of hot work to ensure optimal safety. For hot work activities when construction/alteration/demolition operations are present, the fire watch should also be interacting with the Fire Prevention Program Manager, or FPPM. The FPPM has multiple responsibilities, including the supervision of permits for hot work operations (see NFPA 241, Standard for Safeguarding Construction, Alteration and Demolition Operations). On October 5, two of NFPA’s resident experts on hot work and facility safety will present a session entitled Hot Work in Industrial Facilities as part of the Keeping Hazardous Environments Safe program, an all-day education conference for those interested in chemical, industrial, and occupational safety, as well as emerging tech issues. Given that hot work is a common occurrence in manufacturing and other facilities charged with food processing, pulp and paper manufacturing, oil production, fuel storage, and waste treatment – it should be a perennial top-of-mind topic. Are you up to speed? The conference series can be attended virtually on the scheduled date or registrants can choose to watch the 11 sessions via on-demand anytime in the next year. Presenters Laura Moreno and Kevin Carr will cover hot work definitions, case studies, best practices, and potential risks, and emphasize the important roles that the fire watch and pre-incident planning play in reducing risk especially during construction, alteration, or demolition projects. If you work in an industrial, chemical, or manufacturing setting – register for the Keeping Hazardous Environments Safe conference – or share this blog with those you know who do. Find out more about 11 NFPA topically driven virtual conference events that began in May and will run through March 2022.