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Heritage building fires highlight importance of Hot Work Permits

If, as has been hinted at by investigators, the recent Notre Dame fire was the result of hot work as part of a restoration programme, it will not be the first time a fire of this kind has severely damaged or destroyed an iconic building.

A blaze at the famous Mandarin Hotel in London last year, close to Harrods, took almost 6 hours to extinguish. It was reported to have been undergoing a multi-million pound refurbishment with the London Fire Brigade later stating that the fire was believed to have started “by the by product of arc welding landing on the felt lining of the planting façade.” The hotel recently reopened.

So far this year there have been almost 200 fires in heritage buildings in the UK alone, with many undergoing restoration at the time. So, what can be done to avoid these often tragic fires caused by hot work?

According to Kenny Dalziel, Technical Consultant at RiskSTOP, the key control measure is a Hot Work Permit. “Clearly the first step in any situation is for the contractor to provide suitable risk assessments and method statements in relation to the proposed work,” said Kenny. “These should be vetted by on site personnel to ensure that the work is to be carried out in the safest possible manner, as well as ensuring the contractor is competent to undertake the proposed work and that they have adequate liability insurances.

“Other things to consider include, does the hot work have to be carried out at all or is there an alternative way of doing the work that doesn’t involve the use of heat? If the use of heat is required, could the work be done in a safe area away from the building? If the work has to be completed in situ, then a suitable Hot Work Permit should be provided by a suitably authorised representative of the business, with this person also responsible for the supervision of the contractors while they are on site. The authorised person should be somebody who is familiar with the risks and controls associated with hot work.”

Other precautions

Generally, a Hot Work Permit should make clear the nature of the work being carried out, the location within the property and the precautions required throughout. If the work is likely to take more than one day or across shifts, then additional permits should be supplied.

Other precautions that need to be considered are:

  • Ensuring the area around the work is cleared of combustible content, or where this is not possible the use of fire rated coverings should be considered

  • Arranging for suitable fire extinguishers to be provided and also ensuring that the contractors are trained in their use

  • Having a second person observing the work and looking for the initial signs of fire

On completion of the work a continuous fire watch within the area must be undertaken This should be for a minimum of 60-minutes. Only on completion of the fire watch should the permit be closed off. Also, if possible hot work should be carried out as early in the day as possible to ensure that staff remain on site for the full duration of the fire watch period.

Ideally automatic sprinkler and fire detection systems should remain operational throughout the duration of the work.

Kenny Dalziel added: “A common comment when discussing the need for a Hot Work Permit system is that the site never has such work. Hot work is often unplanned maintenance or is part of renovations. The use of a well laid out permit will help to ensure the hot work is carried out in a controlled manner.

“Hot work by contractors and own maintenance staff can include any type of work involving the use of gas or electric welding or cutting apparatus, blow lamps, blow torches, grinding wheels, cutting discs, or bitumen or tar boilers.”

For further information on hot work procedures and precautions, contact RiskSTOP by emailing or calling 01305 215500.



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