A fire at Real Madrid’s Santiago Bernabeu Stadium has highlighted the dangers of welding within construction. Find out more about hot work fire risks.
A recent serious fire at Read Madrid Football Club’s stadium reinforces the importance of taking precautions when carrying out hot work duties in construction.
It also proves how real the risks are on even prominent large-scale developments.
Smoke could be seen billowing from the Spanish team’s Santiago Bernabeu Stadium in late May when an insulation material – thought to be polyurethane foam – caught fire during standard welding work.
It was reported that construction workers carrying out the £600 million renovations managed to extinguish the flames before any significant damage took place, and no-one was injured.
Polyurethane (PU) foam: Reducing the fire risks
PU foam is an ‘exothermic reaction’ (when energy is taken from the surroundings) and the foaming process must be carefully controlled in order to prevent excess temperatures being reached and posing a danger.
According to the Health and Safety Executive, when a naked flame is ‘passed over PU foam for bonding it can be overheated and become a fire risk’. The HSE goes on to detail precautions that can be taken in reducing those risks, including separating the process from other operations and containing the work in a fire-resistant enclosure.
The dangers of welding
The act of welding poses a variety of fire hazards, such as sparks igniting flames, heat conduction, explosions in flammable atmospheres or workers being burned.
At CE Safety, we submitted a Freedom of Information request to the Welsh Fire and Rescue Service last year to find out how many incidents had been reported due to hot work in construction.
The Fire and Rescue Service in South Wales disclosed that there had been 13 incidents caused by ‘welding equipment’ within various types of property, and some of them had been caused by careless handing or negligent use of equipment.
Hot work diligence
Our senior consultant, Gary Ellis, said: “I cannot stress enough how vital it is for construction workers take all hot work duties extremely seriously. It is everyone’s responsibility to ensure all workers are fully trained and fully aware of the dangers, as well as the steps they must take to reduce them.
“Ultimately this isn’t just about damage limitation for the company and client in terms of money or avoiding legal issues or damage. This is about keeping people out of danger and saving lives.”
Tips for reducing the risk of fire when welding
- Understand the issues of lack of oxygen
When working in a confined space, the reduced oxygen levels can be a real threat to workers. This danger can become greater if oxygen levels decrease throughout the process of welding. For example, through chemical reactions like rusting. If you can, consider how you could carry out the work without entering the confined space. If this isn’t possible, educate yourself with safe systems – like this HSE one – and familiarise yourself with a comprehensive emergency plan. Never use oxygen supplies as this adds to the risk.
- Clear the site
Before starting a welding job, ensure all flammable material is moved away from the scene. This includes fabric, cardboard or wood. Remember that sparks and heat can reach surprising distances and start fires.
- Implement a fire watch
A fire watch system must be put in place when hot work cannot be carried out in a safe environment or is particularly risky. This ensures the area is diligently monitored for up to 30 or 60 minutes after the hot work has taken place and any sparks that arise can be dealt with immediately.
- Electrical hazards
The electricity involved in hand-held welding means there is a risk of electric shock and burns for the worker. Minimise this risk by using appropriate international (ISO) or British (BS) standards equipment, ensuring only qualified people install and handle the tools, and that they are fully safe, clean and compliant. Always use suitable PPE too.
- Stray welding currents
Where possible, clamp the current return cable in the surrounding area to avoid any stray currents from reaching you.
- Electric shock risks
There are measures you can take if your risk of electric shock is increased, such as welding in damp or wet conditions. These include using an insulating mat or dry platform to work on, wearing clean, dry gloves and overalls, and using correct PPE.
- Trips and falls
Research shows that workers tripping and falling over account for the biggest portion of all welding accidents, but effectively putting simple systems in place to minimise these risks can go a long way to reducing the dangers.
Hot work training
We carry out thorough and certificated training in our hot work permits and hot work passport courses. Find out more by clicking the links below: