At 2am on May 2020, a passerby in the town of Port Alberni BC reported a fire in a building. The fire was started at least 8 hours after welders completed their job in an industrial complex.
But it was determined the fire was, indeed, caused by welding sparks.
The spatter from the welder caused a hidden fire to smolder for hours before finally taking hold and ripping through the complex.
This incident was a reminder to us all – welding can pose a serious fire danger.
Every flying spark has the potential to cause a fire if it lands and settles on a flammable surface.
But the more experienced we get at welding, the more complacent we get too. No one starts a welding project expecting to cause a fire – but it happens. So it’s important to constantly remind ourselves of our fire safety obligations to ensure every job is completed successfully and without accidents.
So in this review, we’re going over a series of important fire safety rules for welding.
Fire Safety Rules for Welding
Before you start your next welding job, make sure you can tick off the following points in this checklist. By ticking these points off, you’ll be able to make your welding job that little bit safer. Over and above these five rules, make sure you also follow all the rules of your workplace, local laws, and the instructions provided on your welding equipment.
1. Clear & Protect the Surrounding Area
Sparks from a welder can fly up to 35 feet (10 meters) in any direction. These sparks each have the potential to cause a fire.
So, you need to prepare the area in a 35 feet radius on all sides.
Look around for anything that could be a fuel for a fire. This includes cardboard boxes, loose papers, trash cans, flammable gasses, trees and shrubs, woods, paints, and cleaning products. Any of these objects that can be removed from the space should be removed before the job begins.
But sometimes you can’t move flammable objects.
For any objects that cannot be removed, consider covering them with a fire resistant welding blanket. These fiberglass blankets help catch burning embers and prevent an accidental fire.
2. Cover the Cracks
We started this article with a story about a welding fire that was started when a smoldering invisible fire went undetected by the welders.
These sorts of hidden smoldering fires flourish in the cracks and hidden nooks and crannies around the welding space. If at all possible, find ways to plug or cover cracks where sparks or molten metals can land and smolder for hours. You can use a fiberglass or leather blanket to cover the cracks if possible.
3. Assign a Fire Watcher
A fire watcher might be an apprentice or colleague who can observe the sparks and keep their eyes out for possible flare-ups throughout the job. The fire watcher can stand at a safe distance with a good view of the scenario where they can monitor it constantly. They might also want to have a fire extinguisher by their side in case.
The fire watcher should also stay back after the job is complete to do a search of the area. Look out for molten metals that are still smoldering around the space and ensure they’re swept away. The fire watcher needs to hang back for at least 30 minutes after the job is complete in case a fire starts up.
4. Wear Personal Protective Equipment (PPE)
Personal Protective Equipment (PPE) is first and foremost for protecting yourself from getting burned. But it also helps to minimize the chances of secondary fires. Make sure you’re wearing non-synthetic clothing that’s not going to start burning too easily.
Your PPE should include a face mask and fire resistant welding gloves. Your gloves should be made of cowhide or goatskin leather with Kevlar stitching and a long cuff. Leather is very fire resistant and is less likely to catch fire than other materials. The long cuff can help ensure the clothing on your forearm does not catch fire.
You should also wear long sleeves and long pants for extra personal protection.
If a person does catch fire, use a fire blanket and remember the ‘Stop, Drop and Roll’ rule.
5. Keep a Fire Extinguisher Handy
A fire extinguisher is a must in situations like this. For welding, we recommend you have a large 10 pound ABC fire extinguisher. These extinguishers are great for garage and workshop situations and can tackle large incipient fires before they get out of control.
The fire watcher should have the fire extinguisher at hand so it can be deployed quickly.
If you do not have access to a fire extinguisher, fire hoses or water mains, wet hessian bags, and kitchen fire blankets are also useful for helping to suppress incipient fires.
If you’re a regular welder or travel to weld, you might want to get a fire extinguisher that you keep in your car, and make sure you’re trained on how to use it. The extinguisher needs to be regularly checked for pressure and replaced every 5-10 years (check your specific extinguisher’s guidelines).
What if I can’t Remove Flammables from the Area?
Unfortunately sometimes you need to do your welding in a space where fire risks are high. In these instances, you need to take extra precautions. Ensure you assign a fire watcher and use as many fire-resistant shields as possible. Fire-resistant shields can include fiberglass or leather fire blankets, sheets of metal, or other non-flammable materials. Remember to also work in a well ventilated space where fumes from paints and gasses can be funneled out of the area rapidly.
Welding is essential for many construction and maintenance jobs. But when you’re doing the job, you need to keep in mind the fire hazard inherent in welding. Work to minimize them as much as possible so you don’t become the next story of a welding fire accident that went badly wrong.