Brand Director at Barbour EHS

March 2, 2020

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Calls for thermal cameras to spot hot works fires

An insurance company has said that the use of thermal imaging cameras should be adopted as standards, to reduce the number of fires caused by ‘hot works’. 

blow torchZurich is urging contractors to adopt the use of thermal imaging devices, after it claims that a quarter of all accidental fired on construction sites in the UK are sparked by welding, grinding and torch-applied roofing.

Based on information from a Freedom of Information request, Zurich found that a quarter of all accidental fires on construction sites, in the UK, were caused by welding, grinding and torch-applied roofing.

The data also revealed that between January 2015 and March 2019, fire crews in the UK were called to 1,587 construction fires, of which 28% were caused by hot work, or other sources of heat.

Zurich’s own research claims that 15% of the total cost of all UK fires in commercial and industrial properties involve hot work.

Between 2016-2019, the cost of damage from industries that involve hot work amounted to £250million.

In addition to thermal imaging devices, Zurich is also recommending that contractors complete a training course, to receive a voluntary licensing system, before supervising hot work.

This approach has been implemented in Scandinavian countries since the 1980s, where it showed improvement by reducing hot work fires to less than 5%, over the last decade.

Kumu Kumar, Director of Risk Engineering for Zurich UK, said: “Fires caused by hot work have a devastating impact on lives, businesses and communities. The construction industry already has robust hot work controls in place but with fires continuing to break out, additional measures are urgently needed.

He added: “Thermal cameras could further strengthen the industry’s existing safeguards and help to detect more hot spots before they ignite. The devices can also be used to take time-stamped photos to demonstrate fire watches have been carried out.  Although there is no single solution for preventing hot work fires, this is a relatively cheap and simple measure that could have a far-reaching impact, especially if the cameras are adopted as standard.”

Gary Walpole, Safety, Health and Environmental Officer, for the National Federation of Roofing Contractors (NFRC), said: “The NFRC encourages the use of any technology that improves health and safety and within this guidance we recommend the use of thermal cameras, which are relatively cheap compared to the cost associated with fire, and the dangers posed to contractors and the general public.”

Kumar concluded: “As lessons from Scandinavia show, better training and awareness around pre-work assessments and post-work fire watch periods could help to dramatically reduce the frequency of fires sparked by hot work.  A passporting scheme also encourages best practice and provides peace of mind to businesses when choosing contractors.”

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