The Basics of Hot Work Permits
By: Corey Bounds, Director of Risk Assessment
Any time sparks are flying, catastrophe could be right around the corner. Whether you’re cutting with a torch, using a grinder or just processing lumber, hot work must always be performed and managed carefully with the guidance of a daily permit. Compared to commonly known combustible materials, wood will catch fire at the lowest ignition temperature – and this is one of the reasons why hot work is the biggest driver of preventable losses in the forestry products industry.
To give context to the threat of performing hot work in an unprotected setting, imagine filling up your car at a service station and spilling a little bit of gas. Right then, a passerby tosses a cigarette out the window and into the puddle at your feet. All it takes is one spark to cause catastrophic damage.
Because we take hot work seriously at Continental Underwriters, Inc., we worked with business owners and industry partners to develop our hot work permit guidelines for clients. More than just being an insurance requirement, hot work permits are excellent tools for managing your operations safely.
Most mills perform some kind of hot work on a weekly basis (if not daily), so getting into the habit of checking off all the procedures on the permit and reminding employees of those routines is in everyone’s best interest, not to mention good for your business’s bottom line. Because if catastrophe is around the corner, the best thing you can do is protect your space with the things you can control: cleanliness, suppression, timing and awareness.
To explain how hot work permits work with a high-level analogy, they can be likened to seatbelts in a car. Simply learning how to put a seat belt on isn’t enough. You must buckle up for safety every time the car is in motion. The same goes for hot work permits: Sawmill professionals learn the risks of hot work, but more importantly, they manage them with the use of a permit every time hot work is being performed, checking off each safety item as they go. Once you get into the routine of doing either of these things, it’s hard to imagine a world when you didn’t consider those risks before.
Over my nearly two decades of experience, specifically in lumber mills, the level of risk in performing hot work has evolved to a point that can’t be ignored. Mill technology has advanced so drastically over the last 20 years that what once might have been a $10,000 loss from a fire is now millions of dollars in losses. Even if a hot work fire is not catastrophic, mill owners still face downtime, which costs more and more money for every minute they’re out of operation. So these permits serve as a fundamental tool for business success.
DEVELOPING THE PERMIT
In creating Continental Underwriters’ hot work permit, our team researched and consulted with OSHA, NFPA, clients and even other insurance carriers. With our combined experience, we created a permit specific to lumber milling that prevents the risks associated with all hot work operations.
We always ensure that Continental Underwriters’ clients are well-educated on hot work best practices and the risks associated with performing any kind of welding, grinding or cutting. But more importantly, we make sure they know how to manage the area after the hot work activity has been performed, which is the most common time for mill fires to occur.
As I noted earlier, however, the risks increase when you work with a product like wood with its low combustion point. To account for that, our hot work permit requires mill staff to watch for emerging fire from a hot work station for five hours, compared to the NFPA’s 60 minutes. Nuances such as these set apart the wood industry, which requires much more care and consideration in lowering risk. And that’s why we’re here – to identify and mitigate those risks for our clients, their businesses and their employees.
OUR APPROACH TO PREVENTION
At the start of a new relationship, our team will talk with a client about all risks associated with their operation – and hot work tops that list. We then send out permits for mill operators to use, and we provide additional training and educational materials if needed.
While most of our contracts renew annually, we’re in constant touch with most clients to ensure that risks are being managed with preventive best practices and safety procedures. The CU hot work permit is a program that we’re discussing in everyday conversations. Whenever we do visit those mills, it’s customary to see the used hot work permits on file.
If you’re looking to get your sawmill insured or want to learn more about the risks of hot work in the lumber industry, please don’t hesitate to reach out. We’ve got a team of folks ready to help educate, mitigate and advocate for your business. You can also download a sample hot work program here to get you started.