The duty of a fire watch is extremely important. It is mandatory for crews when working aboard vessels. This role can be frustrating or boring if the person does nothing but stand around waiting for a fire to occur. But this doesn't have to be the case.
A vital role for a fire watch is also a safety role. The area in which the welding or cutting takes place will most likely have several safety hazards in need of control. For example:
- No ventilation in the space where the Hot Work s being done. Hard to see a fire for all the smoke!!!!! Make sure there is good ventilation in those spaces–someone has to work there!
- Oxygen and Acetylene cylinders may be placed below decks. This is always an invitation to disaster. Get a Competent Person to evaluate the space PRIOR to allowing anyone in.
- Bad Lighting: If the lighting is poor, it is just a matter of time until a trip or fall occurs. And how can anyone find tools in the dark?
- Foam Insulation: Most of the large shipboard fires involved foam/plastics. Insure that all foam is stripped back to the proper guidelines or all exposed edges painted with No-Char, or the approved equivalent, prior to performing hot work.
- Poor Housekeeping: This is frustrating for everyone…the leads are spaghetti, debris is everywhere, and everyone is in a bad mood because it's a pig sty. Bad housekeeping leads to bad accidents.
- But here is a fire hazard to end `em all: A welder was observed running a vertical skip weld in an enclosed space–WHILE SITTING ON A FIVE GALLON (28 litre) CAN OF GASOLINE. The gasoline was for the pressure washer on deck and someone brought it down for the welder to sit on!!! Boy was he surprised once he read the label on the can!
A good fire watch (in any type of construction activity – not just in ship yards) should catch and report these safety hazards. Injury, damage and even death can be avoided. Take the initiative to identify problems before the hotwork starts. It may only take a few minutes to do so, but the work stopage and cleanup after a small fire will take hours–or even days. Also, while on fire watch, help with the area housekeeping and assist with other tasks that enable everyone to perform their job more safely. The time will be well spent.