‘Hot work’ policy aims to improve campus fire safety
By Lawrence McMahen
The U of S is hoping that from now on where there’s smoke there won’t be fire – at least not at campus construction sites.
As of Nov. 1 it has instituted a strict new policy and permit system for all contractors whenever they do ‘hot work’ on University property, and the official in charge says it’s a serious matter of occupational health and safety.
Larry Riopka, Fire & Contractor Safety Manager in the Department of Health, Safety & Environment (DHSE), says hot work is the leading cause of fires on campus and the University is making a concerted effort to douse the problem.
Hot work is any short-term operation that involves open flames or that produces heat or sparks. That includes welding, soldering, torch cutting, grinding, brazing, thawing, open-flame heaters, hot-tar operations, or applying roofing with torches.
“Time and time again, hot work comes up as the No. 1 cause of fire,” Riopka says. He notes there have been at least three small fires from hot-work procedures at campus construction sites within the past three years – one each at Veterinary Medicine, the new Kinesiology Building, and the Spinks Addition.
Riopka says the University’s Board of Governors passed a rigorous new policy on contractors’ hot work in May. Since then he has worked with the Facilities Management Division (FMD) and the Risk Management & Insurance Services office on the detailed permit and procedures that will give teeth to the new campus policy.
“Most of our contractors have their own policies for hot work,” but the new safety checks will allow the University to ensure that all the proper procedures are being followed. Riopka sent a memo to all deans and unit directors Nov. 1 outlining the new rules.
Before doing any hot work, contractors must first consider whether alternative, safer methods could be used for the work and, if hot work is necessary, whether it can be done in a campus shop or another approved and protected hot-work area.
If it has to be done at the building site, all contractors must get a Hot Work Permit from their project manager or DHSE. In the case of hot work being performed by FMD maintenance contractors, which Riopka notes accounts for some of that type of work done on campus, FMD’s own safety office can issue the permit. The only hot work not requiring a permit is that done outside in an area free of any combustible materials, including grass and leaves.
Each permit is good for one eight-hour shift and must be posted at the worksite. It requires that safety precautions be taken such as: removing any flammable materials from the work area before the hot work; having someone stand by to watch for sparks and someone with a fire extinguisher during the hot work; covering nearby areas with fire-resistant tarps.
Also, the “fire watch” is kept up for one hour after the hot work is finished, and people must check the area at least every half hour for three hours after the fire watch ends.
Riopka says the new hot work policy is in addition to the previous requirement that before they can work at campus construction projects all workers must attend a 90-minute orientation session offered by DHSE.
The new policy signifies that “we’re being a little more vigilant” about fire safety on the campus worksites, Riopka adds.
“There’s no doubt it will help the situation.”