All workers in the USA, including welders, have a legal right to a safe and healthy workplace. And if employers do not take responsibility for welder health and safety, workers may exercise their rights and raise any concerns they have. If there is an injury of any sort in the workplace, they may also report the incident to the authorities.
Welding and related activities including brazing and cutting are potentially hazardous tasks that threaten welder health and safety throughout the nation, in numerous industries. According to the US Department of Labor’s Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA), at least half a million workers in the industries that utilize welders face health and safety risks. Four workers in every thousand risk being fatally injured during their “working lifetime.”
OSHA continuously highlights the risks of hazardous fumes and gases in the welding workplace, warning of the serious health risks and offering solutions to avoid these. While general ventilation (either forced or natural) is vital, OSHA also highlights the important role of local exhaust ventilation systems that remove polluted air from welders’ breathing zones. Additionally, OSHA offers free, confidential health and safety advice to small and medium-sized businesses, helping to identify and overcome hazards by complying with legislated OSHA standards.
Filing Complaints About Welder Health and Safety
Welders who believe their employers are not compliant with OSHA’s health and safety regulations and standards should discuss the issues with their employers. If this isn’t possible, or if an employer refuses to rectify unsafe or unhealthy conditions, workers are entitled to file confidential complaints with OSHA.
More importantly, workers don’t need to know for certain that an OSHA standard has in fact been violated – they simply need to “believe” that the employer isn’t following OSHA standards, or identify what they perceive to be a serious hazard that is putting employees at risk.
While complaints may be made anonymously, OSHA advises that signed complaints are more likely to result in inspections.
Employers may not retaliate in any way against workers who file complaints. If they do, they are breaking the law, and the dissatisfied employee should file a “whistleblower” complaint to OSHA within 30 days. This may be done in any language.
Ventilation Systems for Welder Health and Safety
While the type of welding processes used, along with the base metal, filler metals, and welding rods, all affect workers’ exposure to welding fumes, so too does the location and environment where welding takes place, as well as welders’ work practices and ventilation. The importance of air movement and the use of ventilation controls are both highlighted by OSHA.
Tips to help improve welder health and safety include:
- Avoiding breathing in welding gases and fumes by standing upwind when welding outdoors or in an open environment.
- Improving general ventilation to reduce gas and fume levels.
- Using natural drafts in conjunction with sensible positioning when there aren’t ventilation or exhaust systems available (for example outdoors).
- Using local exhaust ventilation systems to remove as much fume and gas from the welder’s breathing zone as possible.
- Using flexible or portable exhaust systems at individual workstations.
- Avoiding welding in confined spaces unless there is a reliable ventilation system in place.
- Supplying welders with additional respiratory protection if necessary, to ensure that exposure is reduce to a safe level.
Kemper America specializes in the manufacture of industrial welding exhaust systems that successfully extract smoke and fumes from the workplace during the various welding, cutting and grinding processes. If you need a welding smoke extraction system that will dramatically improve your welder health and safety program, contact us today to discuss the best solutions.