HOT WORK PERMIT PROGRAMS: Helping Small Businesses Reduce Fire Risks

Most small businesses will at some point require hot work operations, which are activities involving heat, sparks or flames, such as welding, cutting, grinding and soldering. Unfortunately, when safety precautions are not followed, these activities are a major cause of fire. Between 2010 and 2014, for example, the U.S. averaged an estimated 4,400 structure fires associated with hot work equipment, resulting in $287 million in direct property damage, 12 civilian deaths, and 208 civilian injuries per year, according to a 2016 National Fire Protection Association (NFPA) report, “Structure Fires Started by Hot Work.”

Additionally, hot work is often required on equipment that is not portable and must be performed outside of designated hot work areas (such as a weld shop), which greatly increases the potential for fire. To reduce this risk, proper precautions should be taken prior to, during and after the work is completed, by way of a hot work permit program. In some industries, hot work permits are required. For others, permits may be recommended or required by insurers, local officials or by the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA). Even when not required, maintaining a hot work permit program to safely manage hot work operations for your business is an excellent, worthwhile risk reduction measure that can greatly reduce the fire hazards associated with this type of work.

The risk of fire can really heat up when conducting hot work, which is why a hot work permit program is a wise choice for small businesses.

COMMON HOT WORK OPERATIONS FOR SMALL BUSINESSES

  • Installation and repair of roof cover systems
  • Installation and repair of air conditioning equipment including piping and ventilation ducts
  • Thawing/sweating of air conditioning lines or frozen pipes
  • Work on kitchen ductwork
  • Plumbing work on metal piping
  • Various renovations of office, retail, or warehouse spaces
  • Work involving metal partitions
  • Renovations including shelving and storage racks
  • Renovations of various metal structures including mezzanines, railings, catwalks, stairs and fences
  • Cutting of metal containers and drums

THE HOT WORK PERMIT PROGRAMS

Hot work permit programs are designed to prevent fires through proper authorization, supervision, and control of temporary hot work operations conducted by employees and contractors outside of a designated hot work area. For example, they detail requirements for hot work permits, such as the following:

  • Hot work permits should be required for any hot work operations performed outside of a designated hot work area, by anyone at the site.
  • The hot work permit itself should be used as a checklist to confirm proper safety precautions are being taken.
  • The permit should be kept at the area where the operations are taking place and be retained for future reference.

Hot work permit programs also clearly define roles and responsibilities, and create checks and balances by including personnel who do not conduct the actual hot work operation, such as the example below.

PROGRAM MANAGER

Designate a person such as a safety supervisor or manager to oversee the program. This person will:

  • Manage safe hot work operations.
  • Ensure all other alternatives to hot work have been explored.
  • Verify the fire alarm system and fire protection system, such as the overhead sprinkler system, are in full operation.
  • Inspect the area where the hot work is to take place and verify safety precautions to be taken by the operator using the hot work permit checklist.

HOT WORK OPERATOR

The person conducting the hot work must:

  • Obtain a permit before any work begins.
  • Be well trained in the equipment they are using.
  • Ensure all equipment is in good working condition.
  • Incorporate proper safety precautions described in the hot work permit.
  • Be trained in the use of fire extinguishers and have one on hand.
  • Keep the hot work permit visible during operation.

FIRE WATCH PERSON

This designated person:

  • Must meet all regulations outlined above for the hot work operator.
  • Can perform other duties in that area if they are not distracted from the fire watch duties.

ALTERNATIVE OPTIONS

If your business cannot implement a hot work permit program, look for alternative ways to complete the work that does not require heat, sparks or flames. Similarly, if possible, have the hot work operations conducted offsite or outside (at least 35 ft away from the building and combustible materials).

DEVELOP YOUR HOT WORK PROGRAM TODAY

A hot work permit program can be created and easily implemented at any size business. It takes a minimal amount of staff, money and time, and is easy to follow. Most importantly, taking these very small steps can prevent significant property damage and business interruption.

To obtain hot work permit information and guidelines on implementing a thorough program, as well as sample hot work permits, IBHS recommends obtaining a copy of NFPA 51B: Standard for Fire Prevention During Welding, Cutting, and Other Hot Work, which can be downloaded for a nominal fee. This information may also be available through your insurance company or insurance agent. Many sample permits are also available online to help guide you in this important risk reduction measure.