Hot work starts fires costing millions

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Despite numerous campaigns, the statistics for fires caused by hot work in Denmark are still far too high. In other Nordic countries, there are stringent requirements regarding training and certification and this has reduced the number of costly fires.

One completely normal Monday morning in April last year, a group of workmen laid asphalt roofing on a temporary roof at ’Experimentarium’ in northern Copenhagen. As a result of the hot work being carried out, the roof caught fire. The fire spread so quickly that a roofer had to jump from the roof to save his life. A total of 19 fire engines attended the scene before the fire was brought under control. Once the fire had been extinguished, most of the old buildings had been destroyed by smoke and water damage. The fire had also spread to a neighbouring listed building from 1929, resulting in serious damage.  In all, the fire caused damage running to tens of millions.

The fire was just one of the recent major fires that was caused as a result of hot work. Hot work is work that produces sparks or flames and is common in, for example, roofing or welding work. These are fires that can be avoided because, with the right measures in place, there is no doubt that hot work can be safe work. At the same time, the fires cost vast amounts of money.

Costly fires
The Danish Insurance Association regularly compiles statistics on fires in Denmark. The industry organization’s statistics on fire causing damage running to millions show that hot work accounts for 4% of them. The same fires account for 10% of insurance payouts. In other words, these fires are costly.

– As the fire at ‘Experimentarium’ shows, fires caused by hot work usually spread very quickly and the damage is devastating. Admittedly, the number of fires of this kind is not overwhelming but they cost vast amounts of money, says Christina Christensen, an engineer with the Danish Insurance Association.

However, ironically enough, it is often not the hot work in itself that starts the fire, she explains.

– The workman has the actual flame under control but often it catches on to something else. In roofing, for example, it is the material that lies beneath the asphalt roofing that the workman doesn’t know is flammable. Or, in some cases, the sparks catch on to rubbish lying on the floor when you are cutting metal, explains Christina Christensen.

Huge difference between Denmark and its neighbours
If we look at our Nordic neighbours, the payouts resulting from accidents related to hot work are significantly lower. According to Anders Frost-Jensen, Director of Infrastructure & Quality at DBI, this is because in Norway, Sweden and Finland they have gone much further in terms of training and certification.

– There is a vast difference between Denmark and the other countries in these areas. In the other countries, it is an implicit requirement for hot work that it has to be carried out by workmen who have been trained by certified instructors in the country’s rules for hot work. Moreover, the work site must be made secure by both the developer and the person carrying out the work going through a checklist before hot work is commenced. This is a requirement stipulated by the insurance companies, explains Anders Frost-Jensen.

In Denmark, there is not the same uniform practice within the industry, even though, in Denmark we have described the same rules in DBI Guideline 10. The point is simply that if the insurance companies required everyone who performs hot work to have undergone training in accordance with DBI Guideline 10 and also to complete checklists etc. it would be hinder competition between the insurance companies.

– In the other Nordic countries, they have prioritized safety, whereas in Denmark competitiveness is the priority, explains Anders Frost-Jensen.

Recommend trained workmen
Thus, one insurance company’s policy may be to increase the excess if non-certified employees carry out the work. Another company could perhaps retain the original excess as long as the workmen follow the insurance company’s checklist for what measures have to be in place before, during and after the work. As a policy holder, you could then choose the company you think offers the best solution.

The Danish Insurance Association is urging members to ensure that employees have been trained and that checklists are followed when they are performing hot work. And, in fact, many members are following their recommendation, even though it is not standard practice in the industry.

– The insurance companies are aware of the increased risk with hot work and know that it will be minimized with the use of fire guards and trained personnel. Many of them set out requirements relating to the training of workmen and use their own variation orders which have to be filled out on site, thus ensuring that the proper conditions for the work are in place before it starts, says Christina Christensen.

More concrete practices required
DBI would like to see the recommendation become a more concrete agreement within the industry that that is how it should be. For the sake of safety.

– If these practices are adopted to a greater degree in Denmark, over time we will see a reduction in the number of fires and compensation payouts, as is the cases in the other Nordic countries. The more developers and workmen learn about hot work, the safer it will be for them to carry out the work. Therefore, from a fire safety point of view, DBI recommends that workmen should be trained by certified instructors and they must be able to prove that they have undergone such training by presenting a certificate before commencing hot work, says Anders Frost-Jensen, adding:

– The best example we have seen from our neighbouring countries is in Finland. The insurance industry asked for certifications and that has had a significant effect. The industry in Denmark should do the same. It simply isn’t ambitious enough for society and the insurance industry to continue accepting that hot work accounts for 10% of the total of the millions paid out in compensation for fire, he says.

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