The Hot Work House
"DO I have to go to safety training again?" "Is this the same safety training
video that we saw last year?" Most safety professionals have had to field these
questions at one time or another. Like most of us, I knew I wanted to do
something different, but I wasn't sure what cost-effective options were
Through some hot work near-miss experiences, I quickly learned incident
prevention is the key to a successful hot work safety program. There are few
second chances when cutting and welding are introduced to the work area. After a
2001 near-miss hot work incident, my top priority was to upgrade the company's
hot work safety program. To accomplish this, I first updated the company policy
and hot work permit, then conducted classroom safety training for management
personnel responsible for signing and approving these jobs.
In retrospect, my training class was good but not outstanding. Employees
listened to me review the new policy and then answer a question or two. After
the training, I was told by a couple of trainees I should have focused more on
the permit and specific hazards in our manufacturing plants. I made a promise to
myself that I would do something better next year.
When I began planning my annual 2002 hot work safety classes, I knew I did
not want to conduct routine training for this important topic. I wanted
employees to perform a practical hot work permit exercise, but I didn't think it
would be practical to set this up in one of our manufacturing plants because of
space constraints, logistics, time, etc. When I started thinking about a more
manageable training commitment, I wondered if it would be possible to build a
miniature production area and maintenance shop.
The first step was to find someone qualified for the job. I searched the
Internet under the search terms "miniatures" and "dollhouse makers" until I
found some local contacts. I called a dollhouse maker and he was willing to meet
with me. I brought my idea to him, and he initially showed me the types of
dollhouse boxes that were available. After our discussion, it was clear to me
that a "mid-range" dollhouse (from this point on, known as the "training model")
able to house a two-level production area and maintenance shop would work best.
The training model designer even visited our production plants to get a more
accurate visual image of what I wanted.
Next, I made a list of the specific items I wanted inside the training model.
This included miniature items such as employees, welding equipment, 55-gallon
drums, welding blankets, and fire extinguishers. Some of these items could be
bought off the shelf, while others had to be built and painted by the designer.
I explained I wanted the model contents to be affordable, authentic, and
The final step was to organize the "miniatures" in a way that allowed us to
include our specific company's hot work concerns and to maximize the training
experience. We did our best to add safety signs, posters, labels, etc. to make
the model look as realistic as possible. The designer even added electrical
wiring for overhead lighting.
Results: It Is a Small World, After All
The training experience is
behind me now, and I am very satisfied with the results. Employees participated
enthusiastically and described the experience with words like "cool," "fun," and
"great idea." I conducted the practical exercise using the training model in
groups of two or three and watched employees work together and fill out our
company hot work permit while trying to address "pre-planted" safety issues such
as flammables close to the work area, sprinkler system riser valve closed,
Employees intensely discussed different ways to address safety problems. I
quickly learned there was often more than one solution to a problem. Many
employees even noticed equipment details and safety problems I had not even
planned into the training exercise! It was interesting to observe how different
people interacted with the same training model. Some verbally explained what
they would do, while others demonstrated their countermeasures by moving many of
the pieces around to create a hazard-free hot work area.
If one defines success by holding an employee's interest and evoking some
passion during safety training while safety hazards are being identified and
remedied, then I was successful. In the end, this unique model cost little more
than a new safety video. Like most safety managers, I have shelves of safety
I recently read a safety article that stated that "creativity is a dying
concept in safety." It said that safety professionals had to find more creative
ways to engage employees (Professional Safety, November 2002 issue, Page
20). I took a chance, tried something different, and learned as much from the
experience as did the training participants.
This article originally appeared in the October 2003 issue of Occupational Health & Safety.