As wildfires continue to ravage California and the Pacific Northwest, safety managers everywhere need to be cognizant of the inherent risks on site. As recent as the end of August, more than 10 million people in the West were under red-flag warnings. “Warm temperatures, very low humidity, and stronger winds” combine to produce the perfect storm of increased risk of fire danger, per the National Weather Service.
“What does this have to do with me?” you ask. Hot work fires can spread beyond hot work zones, like torch fields, to the wildland nearby. Sparks from welding torches can really spell trouble, as the data suggests. Welding and cutting account for 1 percent of structure fires and 4 percent of non-household property damage, according to the National Fire Protection Association (NFPA). Additionally, they are the most hazardous types of hot work.
Workers must assure that the hazards created in a hot work zone do not extend into other areas. Above that, workers should be empowered to take steps to increase safety and minimize the risk of such occurrences. Here’s how:
1. Emphasize safety education and management oversight.
Supervisors should have jurisdiction over each job, giving the go-ahead to start work if and only if the conditions are safe and workers are adequately trained. They also need to confirm workers are aware of the correct evacuation route. Bear in mind certain situations require trained workers to serve as fire watchers and monitor the hot-work area for at least 30 minutes after the operation concludes.
2. Practice situational awareness.
To ensure safety, hot-work operators need to be hyper-vigilant about their surroundings as they pertain to the nature of their work. For instance, consider: How close is the hot work to a wall? What’s on the other side of the wall? Is the work near stairwells or ventilation shafts. Have you ever considered wind direction? These factors can increase the risk of something going awry.
3. Exceed the standards
Is machinery maintained or replaced when necessary? Such precautions can help shops reduce the risk of a torch fire. Substandard equipment creates more potential for a fire hazard. That’s why the current standards now require a minimum level of performance.
In short, hot work is inherently dangerous, and when you add dry conditions to the mix. Companies and their workforce can protect their safety—and their facilities—by keeping combustibles away from welding and cutting operations; employing new safety features; staying on top of conditions; and, most importantly, knowing and following the instructions prescribed by government agencies and industry organizations.
Remember, safety is everyone’s business. Always ensure you have a method of extinguishing a fire in the incipient stage. In the event of a fire, notify the local fire agency immediately.
These are unprecedented times — don’t forget that IC Fire Prevention is uniquely qualified to assess facilities for deficiencies and engage employees in the fire prevention process. Give me a call at (260) 241-2256 or send me a message at email@example.com to learn more.
In safety, Kenn