Hot Works – Another Danger for the Home (or Business Owner) Handy Man

Grinding can cause a lot of sparks which can lead to a catastrophic fire.

Grinding can cause a lot of sparks which can lead to a catastrophic fire.

Following on from yesterday’s post on asbestos removal, I went to help my son do some renovations to an old bathroom over the weekend and, as part of my role, I acted as a fire watch while he was using an angle grinder.

I have gone to the scene of so many fires that have been started by what are collectively called “hot works”. Hot work can be defined as any process that may generate significant heat or sparks. In addition to using a grinder or cutting wheel, it includes welding, the use of oxy acetylene cutting or heating, use of naked flames and other similar operations. What can so easily happen is that the worker(s) get so engrossed in the task at hand, they pick up a tool and start using it without considering the unintended consequences.

Power tools are so readily available and inexpensive that nearly every home has a grinder/cutter and many now have a welder.

Being involved as we both are in risk management and claims assessment, we are keen, when doing any sort of home handy man work, to ensure we have adequate controls in place to prevent the risk of fire or explosion when conducting hot works.

First up, we have a fire watch. That was my role when this photo was taken.

In that role I am required to:

  • Know where the fire fighting equipment is and how to use it.
  • Have the fire fighting equipment within 10 meters of the works. (I was holding a garden hose that was connected and under pressure).
  • Had a mobile phone on me so I could ring the brigade should it be required.
  • Know where everyone in the house was so I could order an evacuation.
  • After work was complete, I had a good look around to ensure there was no sparks or hot metal cut offs that could start a fire.

Secondly, we made a risk assessment inspection of the area and removed any flammable and combustible material, including timber, ply, cardboard and the like. We covered material that could not be removed with a sheet of cement sheeting to stop it being hit by sparks. The items being cut were some screws that needed to be trimmed back flush. There was no chance of hitting any electrical power cables but as we had a battery operated grinder, we turned off the power to be doubly safe.

In the event of a fire, it would have been my duty to attack and extinguish the fire. I would, naturally, order all work to be stopped and, if we had discharged a fire extinguisher, to ensure that it was replaced / recharged before work recommenced.

By taking these very simple precautions a catastrophe is likely to be averted.

From an insurance perspective, more and more insurance policies, particularly liability wordings but increasingly property policies as well, have an exclusion in respect of any loss arising from hot works where Australian Standard AS 1674.1 – 1997 or its replacement is not strictly adhered to.

My final comment is that while Steve had safety boots, glasses and ear protection, it would have been better if he had protection for his arms and hands rather than use the grinder as he did.

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