All industries have hazards, but when it comes to health, welding poses potential risks to workers like none other. Even with the best safety training available, there are common mistakes that even the most experienced welders make on a daily basis. Protecting yourself and your employees with the proper welding fume extraction equipment is key.
When it comes to the health and safety of welders, there are at least seven important areas to consider, including:
- Correct use of welding equipment used
- Proper maintenance of welding equipment
- Dangerous fumes and gases
- Dangers of electricity
- The possibility of fire and explosion
- The need for personal protection clothing and equipment
- An awareness and mitigation of the potential hazards of welding environments
Proper Welding Fume Extraction Can Reduce Health Hazards
It really is a no-brainer, but if welders are not totally in tune with the equipment they are using, there is a real possibility that they might face health risks, damage the equipment they are using, and even find they have welding failures.
Even if welders have years of experience, it is essential they familiarize themselves with new equipment, or any type of equipment they have previously used. Simply reading the manual that comes with the equipment is a good first step, though a training course might also be required.
Maintenance of Welding Equipment
Regular maintenance of welding tools and equipment is essential not only to ensure the equipment works properly and efficiently, but also to keep it safe and avoid potential health hazards. Additionally, if parts are damaged or worn, they must be replaced – which means that equipment needs to be checked often.
In some industries, including those that involve pipe welding, workers are responsible for checking their own tools and equipment for wear and tear and any defects. Employers also have a responsibility to ensure that regular maintenance is carried out.
Protection from Welding Fumes and Gases
Fumes, gases, smoke and welding dust pose an enormous health risk to welders. Since these come with the territory, it is vital that employers and workers take every possible step to keep fumes and gases out of the workplace, even if they are not toxic, like many of the shielding gases used for arc welding.
Employers have a responsibility to ensure there is proper ventilation in the workplace. It is not enough to simply open windows; at very least there should be a reliable push-pull ventilation system in place. Sophisticated extraction systems will effectively remove fumes and gases at source (where welding is being carried out), while a state-of-the-art clean air tower will remove dust and polluted air with layer ventilation and displacement flow principles.
Welders should also be sure to wear a suitable respirator or mask while welding, though unfortunately even some of the most experienced welders sometimes fail to do this, exposing themselves to hidden risks that could lead to short-term or long-term health risks – in extreme circumstances even death.
At the end of the day, international standards specify the maximum allowable concentration of contaminants permitted in the air of any welding environment. They also specify occupational exposure limits to safeguard the health of welders who are exposed to fumes, gases, dust and smoke day after day for years and years. It is the responsibility of employers to ensure that these standards are maintained.
Apart from oxy-acetylene cutting and welding, all cutting and welding processes use electricity, and as we all know, electricity can be lethal. Electric cords and cables can be especially dangerous when they start to wear and become frayed. But even well functioning equipment can be potentially hazardous. For instance, the electrode and work circuit is electrically “live” during the arc welding process. The internal circuits of the various welding machines and input power circuits are also live when the power is turned on. So it is important to wear the right protective clothing (see below) and to avoid touching live parts.
The electric arc also poses a health hazard along with being a risk factor for burns. Additionally, intense ultraviolet rays are given off during arc welding, and this can harm the eyes and also cause the very unpleasant arc eye condition. Even though arc eye isn’t usually permanent, it affects the cornea of the eye.
Ironically it is more likely that newly qualified welders will be more likely to consciously think about the dangers of electricity than those who have been on the job for lengthy periods of time.
Fire and Explosion
The risk of fire and explosion in welding environments is very real, and it is vital for everyone in the workplace to be aware of these risks, and to know how to counter them and cope if they do happen. By its very nature, welding involves working with very high temperatures and often involves an open flame. Fires can start very quickly, particularly when there is a lot of oxygen in the air. For this reason welders need to limit the oxygen that is released into the air and to ensure that combustible materials are keep away from where they are working.
Compressed gases are used for many welding processes, and so it is important to store gas bottles safely and use them correctly to avoid any chance of explosion. Unfortunately some experienced welders who have never witnessed explosions and fire in a welding environment first hand become far too relaxed about the potential health and safety dangers.
Personal Protection Clothing and Equipment
It isn’t possible to guarantee that people working in a welding environment won’t get sick or hurt in some way. However it is possible to ensure that they all take steps to ensure they don’t expose themselves to unnecessary risks, by wearing personal safety clothing and using equipment produced specifically for this purpose.
The most common items used by welders include safety goggles and approved welding helmets that protect the eyes from sparks, flames and welding arcs. These also protect the eyes from little bits of metal that commonly become airborne during cutting and grinding operations. Insulating gloves, gauntlets, welding aprons, gaiters and spats, as well as protective overalls and proper fire resistant boots are also important. When the workplace is noisy, ear muffs or ear plugs should also be worn.
Potential Environmental Hazards
Some welding environments are more dangerous than others, particularly those that involve confined spaces (like tanks) or outside areas (like pipelines). But even in a regular workshop, it is important that there is sufficient lighting for welders to see what they are doing, that noise is controlled, that fire precautions are taken, and of course that there is the best ventilation possible.
It doesn’t matter how much experience a welder has, if the many potential environmental hazards are not mitigated, people can be hurt and their health compromised.
Unfortunately the very fact that some welders have loads of experience can be their downfall, because they ignore health and safety hazards, thinking they know it all.