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1 Post authored by: lmontville Employee

It has been more than two weeks since we first saw footage of the horrific explosions in the Port of Beirut, and in the days since many of us have been wondering how the conditions that led to that catastrophic event could have been avoided.  

 

News reports point to hot work as the cause of the first fireWelding was being performed on a hole in the warehouse to address security concerns. Something went awry and the warehouse roof caught fire. Next came some smaller explosions (by Beirut incident standards) which were attributed to fireworks storage. And then came the massive blast that is seared into all our minds, when the fire reached 2,750 tons of ammonium nitrate that happened to be stored in the warehouse (for what we now know was more than six years) 

 

Here at NFPA, our thoughts have been with the people of Lebanon as they mourn their losses and move safely into the future. With the latter in mind, wwould like to share information and resources that will help Lebanon and the global community end tragic incidents like this.  

 

Hot work fires in industrial settings are common but easily avoided when precautions and hazard management procedures are followed. Before any hot work is started, anyone involved in the work should use the “Recognize, Evaluate, and Control” process to reduce hazards.  

 

 

In the first step, Recognize, the hot work team (made up of the permit authorizing individual, the hot work operator, and the fire watch) should first recognize that hot work is being done and that it contributes to the fire triangle (oxygen, ignition source and fuel). Hot work served as the ignition source in Lebanon on that fateful Tuesday morning 

 

Hot work can include welding, soldering, brazing, cutting - it is activity involving flame, spark production, or heat Some of the initial questions that should be asked when considering hot work is, “Is there an alternative way to get this job done without hot work? Could I use screwed, flanged, or clamped pipe, or mechanical pipe cutting, instead?” These first steps also call for recognizing what fuel sources are in the area surrounding the proposed hot work location. In other words, look around the work area for construction materials, liquid or gaseous fuel, paint, cleaning solvents, or debris that could be ignited by sparks from the hot work. 

 

Next, Evaluate the situation. Can the hazards that are present be moved away from the hot work site? Can the hot work be done in a different location, free from these fuel sources? Has the atmosphere been tested for flammable or combustible vapors? 

 

Then, Control, minimize, or eliminate the hazard. Clear combustibles to ensure that there is, at minimum, a 35-foot radius space around the hot work, move the hot work to an area free from these materials, or separate the hot work from combustibles using welding pads, blankets, or curtains. Keep in mind that there are some areas where hot work should never be done (non-permissible areas), and this includes areas where explosives are stored. 

 

These safety guidelines are addressed in NFPA 51B, Standard for Fire Prevention During Welding, Cutting, and Other Hot Work  and are brought to life in NFPA Hot Work Safety Certificate Online Training, which teaches how and when to apply these principles. 

 

Hot work incidents, albeit not as prolific as the one in Beirut earlier this month, happen all the time around the globe. There have been several examples in the United States that come to mind.  One in 2017, when hot work was being conducted at a pulp and paper mill near a tank that held flammable vaporsAexplosion occurred, and three contractors were killed and seven more were injured. Prior to that one, an incident in 2016 stands out. A flash fire broke out at a crude oil terminal injuring seven contractors. The incident was attributed to hot work being done on crude-oil pipeline connection.  Then there was an event in 2014 that involved biological material in a tank that was unknowingly off-gassing flammable methane and hydrogen sulfideThese incidents took place in different states during different years; the scenarios were different but, in each case, hot work acted as the devastating ignition source. And instead of things getting better, it seems like every week we are hearing about another building under construction that has burned down or been severely damaged due to hot work. 

 

The NFPA Structure Fires Caused by Hot Work report states that 57 percent of fires involving hot work between 2013-2017 occurred on non-home properties, with welding torches involved in 39 percent of non-home hot work fires and cutting torches involved in 27 percent of non-home fires. The figures below from the research report show the item first ignited and the factors contributing to that ignition; the data drives home how important the three-step approach described above can be in preventing these fires. 

 

Structure fires involving hot work, by item first ignited, 2013-2017, Non-Home 

 

  Structure fires involving hot work, by factor contributing to ignition, 2013-2017, Non-Home 

 

For more content and context related to hot work, visit nfpa.org/hotwork. On that microsite, you will find relevant infographics, fact sheets, and a link to our online trainings (in English and Spanish) to help you and those you work with understand the dangers associated with hot work and the procedures  that promote safety on work sites.  

 

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