Fire watch personnel provide surveillance of areas where “hot work”, such as welding or cutting with torches, is occurring. Fire watch workers may be part of a welding crew that makes sure no smoldering fires result from cutting or welding metal.
The Firewatch/Holewatch is responsible for maintaining safe working conditions in an industrial plant, pipeline or hot work environment by watching for fire and safety hazards during maintenance or construction activities, performing hole watch duties, and assisting craftsmen on the project as directed. Fire Watch core responsibility is to monitor and eliminate small fires and preventing them from becoming a larger safety risk.
OSHA Fire Watch Requirements
What Is an OSHA Fire Watch?
Fire watch personnel are mandated by OSHA. They literally watch for fire in areas of hot work. When is a fire watch required? These areas of hot work include those where workers weld and cut with torches. You’ve maybe even heard it called a “welding fire watch.”
This type of labor causes sparks. Molten metal can even fly into the air and onto surroundings. A fire watch is required in these cases. This person is your lookout. Fires can start easily and spread quickly, so prompt response is necessary.
What Does a Fire Watch Do?
If a fire begins, the fire watch steps in immediately. They are in charge of sounding the alarm. They’ll follow procedure and attempt to control the fire as well. Really, that alarm represents their primary duty. Firefighters need to be on the scene as soon as possible. So, the alarm is important. Professionals on site can help save buildings, machinery, and lives.
Make sure your Fire Watch personnel are properly trained to handle these tasks. With training on their side, they’ll feel confident in their abilities to perform accurately and speedily in the event of an emergency.
OSHA Fire Watch Requirements
Worker safety in hot work areas is important, as well as understanding the OSHA fire watch requirements. This isn’t an exhaustive list, but we’ll point you in the right direction. Always refer to complete OSHA guidelines and requirements to be sure you’re compliant.
These are the fire watch responsibilities 1910.252(a)(2)(iii) :
- 1910.252(a)(2)(iii)(A)- Fire watchers shall be required whenever welding or cutting is performed in locations where other than a minor fire might develop, or any of the following conditions exist:
- 1910.252(a)(2)(iii)(A)(1) - Appreciable combustible material, in building construction or contents, closer than 35 feet (10.7 m) to the point of operation.
- 1910.252(a)(2)(iii)(A)(2) - Appreciable combustibles are more than 35 feet (10.7 m) away but are easily ignited by sparks.
- 1910.252(a)(2)(iii)(A)(3) - Wall or floor openings within a 35-foot (10.7 m) radius expose combustible material in adjacent areas including concealed spaces in walls or floors.
- 1910.252(a)(2)(iii)(A)(4) - Combustible materials are adjacent to the opposite side of metal partitions, walls, ceilings, or roofs and are likely to be ignited by conduction or radiation.
- 1910.252(a)(2)(iii)(B) - Fire watchers shall have fire extinguishing equipment readily available and be trained in its use. They shall be familiar with facilities for sounding an alarm in the event of a fire. They shall watch for fires in all exposed areas, try to extinguish them only when obviously within the capacity of the equipment available, or otherwise sound the alarm. A fire watch shall be maintained for at least a half hour after completion of welding or cutting operations to detect and extinguish possible smoldering fires.
- 1910.252(a)(2)(iv) - Authorization. Before cutting or welding is permitted, the area shall be inspected by the individual responsible for authorizing cutting and welding operations. He shall designate precautions to be followed in granting authorization to proceed preferably in the form of a written Hot Work permit.
- Keep yourself and all employees alert. They should know the exact location of firefighting equipment necessary in the event of a fire.
- It’s important to maintain very clear and constant lines of communication among workers.
- As much as you can, maintain visual and voice contact with employees in hot areas.
- During shift changes and even before, you should inspect entire work areas. Always look for the potential of fire. This includes the release of flammable liquids or vapors.
- You have the equipment. Be ready to use it at any time. Be sure it’s all in working order as well. A faulty fire extinguisher, hydrant, hose cart, or fixed monitor does no good if it doesn’t work properly when you need it most.
- Absolutely never abandon a job site while hot work is happening. If you must leave, then stop the job. Let the workers know that you are “standing-by-for.”
- Before you leave the hot area, double-check for a few things. No burning embers, hot sparks, or other fire hazards should be present.
Return all firefighting equipment to its safe location at the end of the workday.
Pipeline & Facility Fire Watch
Performing Fire Watch is no small task. Often we think it is perfect for the "new guy" so they may watch and learn the various crafts that are performed during pipeline construction. This is true, however we must enable this Fire Watch employee to be skilled in performing their Fire Watch duties.
As mentioned earlier, Fire Watch is no small task. If you were to look online, you could find job postings through the country offering to pay a Fire Watch $50-$60K annually. Why? Because it carries a significant responsibility of diligence and reaction. When things are right, Fire Watch can be boring, tedious and monotonous work. However, when it is time to react, the fire watch will perform the task to alarm personnel for 911 and others promptly, and if trained Fire Watch will step in and extinguish a small fire before becoming something larger. That is their core duty. Eliminate a situation in its incipient stages before getting out of hand.
Fire Watch is a member of the crew performing the Hot Work and they shall all know the tasks being performed that day. The Daily JSA will also inform everyone of the tasks, roles and hazard mitigation.
Below are the top tasks to remember:
- Fire Watch's core duty is to remain on-site and focused on the Hot Work being performed.
- Both OSHA and NFPA state that a Fire Watch must monitor and eliminate any fire potential (Smoldering embers, etc.) for a minimum of 30 mins post Hot Work being performed.
- Fire Watch personnel shall be trained on the equipment used to eliminate risk of fire producing hot slag, sparks, fire, smoldering embers, etc. Ex. Fire Extinguisher, Water Wagon, Royal Purple Extinguishing Powder, Pump Water Sprayer, Spark Containment Curtains, Windboards, etc. And how to maintain and refresh the water supply. They shall also maintain the functionality of these devices, test and make sure they are performing optimally at all times.
- Proper PPE worn at all times. FRC, Gloves, Glasses, Boots, etc. Their duty may put them in close proximity to having to fight a small fire, therefore they will need proper PPE to prevent burns. Often clients will require the Fire Watch to wear a FR high-viz vest to help identify them.
- Always maintain awareness of the potential hazardous atmospheres that may ignite. Monitor and Test to mitigate any LEL (Lethal Explosive Limits).
Hazard Mitigation for Fire Watch
Below are a few things to think about daily to reduce risks associated with Hot Work.
- Know the weather conditions for the day. Relative humidity can play a huge role on causing fires. Low RH dries out small grasses and other vegetation quickly.
- Wind! This is a big factor in the days work. Prepare in advance for high winds. Use a Wind Board, tent or other blocking device to help reduce sparks which will then cause a small fire. Combined with wind, this can get away from you quickly.
- Weather. Advancing storms can impact your ability to control your Hot Work environment. Swirling high winds from an approaching storm can cause range or forest fires quickly.
- Water Wagons. Typically used to extinguish fire in grassland & heavy forested areas, they work well when winds are not high. The secret to using a water wagon is to make sure you are on the Downwind side of the pipe. Otherwise you will be blocked from responding to a fire as the pipe will typically already strung out and lined up. No place to cross with a buggy and 100+ gals of water. Also be aware of storms causing wind to change as well after wind change. You may have to adjust your buggy location. Plan ahead!
- Fire Extinguishers. Typically the Fire Watch will have a 20lb extinguisher, charged, certified and ready. Every shift and day, you MUST check the functionality of the extinguisher. Check Nozzle, Handle is not bent impacting compression, fully charged and never discharged previously. It needs to work when you need it most!
- Pump Water Sprayer. Functional and filled with clean water. Not muddy water from a bell-hole. Check functionality daily. Used for small fires caused by slag and welding processes. And remember, don't spray the welder or the weld!! You will see what happens if you do!
- Spark Containment Curtains. Use to prevent sparks from entering adjacent areas in confined working areas. Remember sparks can fly high and far. Monitor inside the curtain area as well outside of curtained area.
- Wind Boards. Used to help block wind from impacting the welding activity. This wind board can be a simple 4x4 or 3x4 board with handle or ropes to help control the board.
- Burn Bans. Either set by the client and or the County or State, Burn Ban awareness is important to research and understand for each area you are working. Often burn bans will have mitigation requirements and acceptable parameters to meet for any Hot Work. Here is a sample of a couple of State entities to follow: Texas A&M Forestry Service and Oklahoma Forestry Service.