It is easy to take for granted things that you work with everyday. (Have you ever seen someone who works with poisonous snakes, crocodiles, or tigers and thought, "Wow that is stupid"?) It is easy to become complacent, careless, or over confident. It is easy to lose the once held healthy fear of fire when you're a seasoned welder, but fire prevention is essential. Fires can be started by sparks or drops of hot slag. Before you begin any welding project, you must be aware of potential fire hazards and consider safe practices. Examine the work area, adjacent areas, welding equipment, and materials.
Consider the 2011 fire at a Woonsocket, Rhode Island mill started by a welding torch. The 200,000 square foot building, valued at $900,000 was destroyed, completely burnt to the ground. Fortunately no one was hurt, nor did nearby homes incur damage. Sixty units of a Galveston, Texas condo complex were damaged in June 2009 when a fire started from construction welding. The building was being repaired from damages done by hurricane Ike, many of the residents had already moved back in. One firefighter was briefly hospitalized from heat exhaustion, but all residents were evacuated without harm.
The following guidelines are directly from the Occupational Safety and Health Administration.
When practical, objects to be welded, cut, or heated shall be moved to a designated safe location or, if the objects to be welded, cut, or heated cannot be readily moved, all movable fire hazards in the vicinity shall be taken to a safe place, or otherwise protected.
If the object to be welded, cut, or heated cannot be moved and if all the fire hazards cannot be removed, positive means shall be taken to confine the heat, sparks, and slag, and to protect the immovable fire hazards from them.
No welding, cutting, or heating shall be done where the application of flammable paints, or the presence of other flammable compounds, or heavy dust concentrations creates a hazard.
Suitable fire extinguishing equipment shall be immediately available in the work area and shall be maintained in a state of readiness for instant use.
1926.352(e) When the welding, cutting, or heating operation is such that normal fire prevention precautions are not sufficient, additional personnel shall be assigned to guard against fire while the actual welding, cutting, or heating operation is being performed, and for a sufficient period of time after completion of the work to ensure that no possibility of fire exists. Such personnel shall be instructed as to the specific anticipated fire hazards and how the firefighting equipment provided is to be used.
When welding, cutting, or heating is performed on walls, floors, and ceilings, since direct penetration of sparks or heat transfer may introduce a fire hazard to an adjacent area, the same precautions shall be taken on the opposite side as are taken on the side on which the welding is being performed.
For the elimination of possible fire in enclosed spaces as a result of gas escaping through leaking or improperly closed torch valves, the gas supply to the torch shall be positively shut off at some point outside the enclosed space whenever the torch is not to be used or whenever the torch is left unattended for a substantial period of time, such as during the lunch period. Overnight and at the change of shifts, the torch and hose shall be removed from the confined space. Open end fuel gas and oxygen hoses shall be immediately removed from enclosed spaces when they are disconnected from the torch or other gas-consuming device.
Except when the contents are being removed or transferred, drums, pails, and other containers which contain or have contained flammable liquids shall be kept closed. Empty containers shall be removed to a safe area apart from hot work operations or open flames.
Drums containers, or hollow structures which have contained toxic or flammable substances shall, before welding, cutting, or heating is undertaken on them, either be filled with water or thoroughly cleaned of such substances and ventilated and tested. For welding, cutting and heating on steel pipelines containing natural gas, the pertinent portions of regulations issued by the Department of Transportation, Office of Pipeline Safety, 49 CFR Part 192, Minimum Federal Safety Standards for Gas Pipelines, shall apply.
Before heat is applied to a drum, container, or hollow structure, a vent or opening shall be provided for the release of any built-up pressure during the application of heat.
National Fire Protection Association
View NFPA 51B online here: http://www.nfpa.org/aboutthecodes/AboutTheCodes.asp?DocNum=51B.
The American Welding Society's safety guidelines can be found in PDF format here: http://www.aws.org/technical/facts/Z49.1-2005-all.pdf. Information specific to fire and explosion prevention can be found in PDF version here: http://www.aws.org/technical/facts/fs6-806.pdf.