Last month, a worker at a Wisconsin golf course was critically injured when a 55-gallon drum that he was working on exploded. Authorities say that a UPS driver found the 35-year old victim semi-conscious on the floor in a pool of blood and speculate that he could have been there for several hours.

The worker was hospitalized from a catastrophic head injury, which occurred while he was using an acetylene torch to open the sealed drum. The drum contained a small amount of oil inside, which ignited and caused an explosion that shot the lid upward and struck the victim in the head. The victim underwent extensive brain surgery on the day of the explosion and could face more surgeries in the future.

Hot work, which includes acetylene torch cutting, is a leading cause of industrial fires, injuries, and fatalities. It is important to put safety first whenever performing any type of hot work. Here are a few personal safety tips to keep in mind before operating an acetylene torch. Acetylene welding is not difficult, but it has the potential to become extremely dangerous. Severe and fatal burns, as well as violent explosions can result from carelessness:

  • The employer, or facility manager, should have a hot work management program in place. This program should be understood and strictly followed.
  •  OSHA 1910, Subpart Q, standard entitled “Welding, Cutting, and Brazing”, should be understood and strictly followed.
  •  OSHA 1910.252(a)(3)(i) restricts welding or cutting of containers, and states in part that hot work shall not be performed on used drums or other containers until they have been cleaned so thoroughly as to make absolutely certain that there are no flammable materials present that might produce flammable or toxic vapors.
  • OSHA 1910, Subpart Q incorporates by reference National Fire Protection Association (NFPA) Standard 51B, “Standard for Fire Prevention During Welding, Cutting, and Other Hot Work”.  NFPA 51B requirements should be understood and strictly followed.
  •  Ensure that a fire extinguisher in good working order is present and nearby and that a proper fire watch has been established.
  •  Wear clean, oil, and grease free clothing.
  • Wear protective clothing, such as eye protection, leather gloves with long cuffs, and heavy work boots. Falling droplets of metal will instantly burn through running shoes and will continue to burn through to the operator’s foot. Long pants and shirt sleeves should be worn, however, do not roll up pant legs, as the cuffs can possibly catch sparks. Leather aprons and flame proof jackets can also be used to protect the operator.
  •  Do not weld inside enclosed spaces or in tanks where the only ventilation comes from above, as it could cause suffocation.

Almost all hot work accidents are preventable. If you need help identifying challenges in your facility, training your associates, or developing a comprehensive no-nonsense hot work policy, please fill out the form below to contact one of our qualified fire protection engineers today.

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