Magazine article Occupational Hazards

Hot Work and Hot-Work Permits: "In Skating over Thin Ice, Our Safety Is in Our Speed."

Magazine article Occupational Hazards

Hot Work and Hot-Work Permits: "In Skating over Thin Ice, Our Safety Is in Our Speed."

Article excerpt

Many will recognize that quote as belonging to Ralph Waldo Emerson, but the words just as easily could have been spoken by a maintenance person refusing to complete a hot-work permit.

Hot-work permit programs are notorious for invoking the ire of maintenance people, because hot-work programs frequently rely on generic permits that lack specificity and practicality. Early in my career, I vehemently supported disciplinary action for these incredulous maintenance people. Later in my career, after realizing that compliance was less important than results, I realized the maintenance folks had been right all along.

It wasn't until I went toe-to-toe (his were made of steel) with a burly maintenance man that I altered my perspective. This fellow refused to use "my" hot-work permit to perform spot welds throughout a manufacturing plant. We involved everybody's boss, and Human Resources, because if I had my way, this guy was going to be fired!

After behaving like children starved for attention, we both took a deep breath and he asked me, "Do you want me to show you what's wrong with 'your' permit?" Several days later, he walked into my office and handed me the hot-work permit "they" would be willing to use (he had been recruiting).

It was amazing! It lacked all of the generic precautions that mine contained and included the direction and detail that his job required. His permit included specific locations, equipment and fire risks in and around his work area--by name and number.

He assured me that he and his co-workers were not opposed to reasonable precautions, but with the time constraints they were under, they needed to maximize the utility and effectiveness of their time. He assured me that his entire department would complete generic permits and turn them in to comply with the law, but they didn't have time to waste "acting" like they were taking precautions listed on "my" permits.

This fellow went on to manage the hot-work program for us and he co-developed (with other maintenance employees) the hot-work permits throughout our enterprise. He also took the lead as our hot-work permit trainer and was relied upon to qualify contractors working at our facilities.

Hot-work permits can save companies millions of dollars in avoided property damage and lost revenues following business interruption, prevent severe injuries and save lives. However, the permits also can threaten a company's culture, waste a company's resources and add to the pile of combustible materials lying around if careful attention is not applied to the content and format of the permit. …

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