The Harrington Group

Why is Hot Work a Leading Cause of Industrial Fires Even Though They Are Often Preventable?

Posted on Wednesday, January 16th, 2013

Hot Work Oil Tank ExplosionHot work is most commonly thought of as welding or oxy-acetylene torch cutting. However, hot work is any work with the potential to produce enough heat to ignite a fire or explosion. In addition to welding and torch cutting, hot work also includes activities such as burning, brazing, open-flame soldering, open-flame torch heating, and high speed metal grinding and cutting. Year after year, hot work is a leading cause of industrial fires and has been responsible for many injuries, fatalities, and significant loss of property. The year 2012 was no exception. We saw several incidents in 2012, including one in May where three workers died while performing hot work to dissemble an abandoned oil tank.

A more recent hot work accident occurred in November at Yoder Oil Company located in Elkhart, Indiana. The incident resulted in one man being air lifted to critical care, due to severe burns. The victim, 44-year old Leroy Studey, was dismantling a 30-foot tall retired steel diesel tank, which was being cut up for scrap. According to one report, the tank had been purged and washed prior to destruction, however, according to Assistant Fire Chief Shaun Edgerton, Studey was told before the incident that he should not work on the tank because it had not been cleaned or vented.

Before the explosion, the tank had been cut completely along the base and there was already a large section removed from the rear. It had fallen off its base, twisting the structure as it fell. Studey, who was the foreman, determined that one more cut was needed before the tank could be fully dropped to the ground. He entered a lift and using an oxy-acetylene torch, he began making the additional cut in the tank when the explosion occurred and set him on fire. According to witnesses, Studey jumped out of the lift basket and on to the top of the tank. The tank then shifted and began falling. The victim rode the tank until it stopped and then he plummeted several feet to the ground, still on fire. There has been no recent word regarding Studey’s condition.

Hot work accidents are completely preventable, yet this incident is just another example of the dangers that can result from hot work. Qualified fire protection engineers can assist by providing associate and contractor training as well as guidance in the development of written hot work safety management policies and procedures. If you would like more information on how we can provide such assistance, contact us today.

By Jeff Harrington, CEO and Founder of Harrington Group, Inc.

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