79% of fires in Scottish construction caused by hot works

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hot works, construction industry,
© Tomasz Tulik

A Freedom of Information request submitted to the Scottish Fire & Rescue Service has revealed that of 180 fires in the construction industry in 2018/19, 143 were the result of hot works

There were 180 fires in the construction industry in 2018/19, a massive 143 (79%) of which were the result of hot works, according to figures.

51 fires during this period were caused by welding or cutting equipment, 22 by manufacturing equipment and 23 by kilns or other services. These fires resulted in 21 casualties.

What are hot works?

It refers to any task that requires using open flames or applying heat or friction which may generate sparks or heat.

It is defined by the British Standards Institution (BSI) in BS 9999 as: Any procedure that might involve or have the potential to generate sufficient heat, sparks or flame to cause a fire.” Examples of this include welding, flame-cutting, soldering, brazing, grinding and the use of other equipment incorporating a flame.

Hot works poses a particular threat within the construction industry as the cause of multiple fires in buildings.

The most common examples of hot works and those that can pose significant risks without proper safety precautions are for example:

  • Brazing and soldering
  • Gas/electric welding cutting apparatus
  • Grinding wheels and cutting discs
  • Thawing pipes
  • Open flames, blow lamps and blow torches
  • Bitumen and tar boilers
  • Hot air blowers and lead heaters.

Health and safety training provider, CE Safety, has issued the FOI request to discover the number of fires reported in the construction industry.

Gary Ellis from CE Safety, said: “A variety of industries, construction, in particular, may require hot work to be carried out in their premises as part of routine work activities. It is also frequently carried out as part of contractual work, which is common in construction.

“However, no matter who does it, they must know what kind of hazards hot work presents and how to prevent it from causing harm.”

The fire hazards posed by hot works

Flying sparks are the principal risk posed by hot works and they can easily get trapped in cracks, pipes, gaps, holes and other small openings, where they could potentially smoulder and cause a fire to break out.

The debris and residue which hot work creates, such as flammable swarf, molten metals, slag, cinder, and filings, are often combustible.

Hot works can cause pipes to substantially heat up and easily transfer, through the process of conduction, to another flammable surface and cause a fire.

Failure to remove flammable materials or substances from a surface before commencing work means that they could easily become hot and cause a fire.

Ellis added: “The consequences of these hazards can be severe and costly for any business. Injuries can result in workers taking time off work, while a serious fire could damage a building irreparably.

“Both of these could even lead to legal consequences under certain circumstances. Therefore, it is crucial to understand how to implement appropriate safety controls.”

Due to the high-risk nature of this work, the BS 9999 and the Health & Safety Executive (HSE) outline various safety procedures which organisations must adhere to. Their aim is to protect workers from dangerous aspects of hot work and to prevent fires from breaking out.

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