Welding fumes and gases don’t usually cause instant health problems. But when welders are exposed to these constantly, over time, effects may become cumulative, particularly when the occupational exposure limits (OELs) are exceeded. Ultimately, prolonged exposure to welding fumes can kill, and welders need to be protected.
While OELs are part and parcel of health and safety legislation, these are minimum standards, and it is the responsibility of any welding business to ensure that their employees are exposed to the lowest possible exposure levels. The only way to do this effectively is to use ventilation and other control measures, preferably with cutting edge welding smoke and fume extraction systems. Undoubtedly, the best welding equipment used to extract smoke, fumes and gases is going to save welders’ lives.
Welding Equipment and OELs
OELs are, in essence, the maximum permissible concentrations of any hazardous substances healthy adults can be exposed to repeatedly without suffering negative health effects. However there are numerous factors that influence just how hazardous fumes and gases actually are, including the welding process used, the type of shielding gas used (if any), current, voltage, polarity, and the type of electrode used. For instance some electrodes are regarded as non-toxic, while others are highly toxic, especially those that generate chromium fumes. Similarly some metals produce more hazardous fumes than others.
The state of an individual’s health as well as factors like whether he is a smoker or non-smoker will also be relevant.
The United States’ Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) has minimum standards for welding operations, and suggests ways that welders in general can be protected from what is often inevitable exposure to numerous hazardous substances that emanate from welding fumes. OSHA also stresses the importance of welders’ work practices, the movement of air around welding work areas, and the need to use ventilation controls.
Ways to Reduce Exposure to Welding Gases and Fumes
Suggestions made in OSHA fact sheets range from welders positioning themselves when working so that they don’t breathe in fumes, to the use of local exhaust ventilation systems that remove dangerous fumes and gases from the welding workplace.
OSHA draws attention to the fact that while general ventilation (in the form of the forced or natural movement of fresh air) will generally reduce fume levels, welding in open spaces and outside does not guarantee adequate ventilation and therefore protection.
Welding equipment used to remove gases and fumes should be kept as close to the source of the fumes as possible. If flexible or portable systems are used, these should be placed so they will draw gases and fumes away from the person welding, and anyone else assisting with the welding operation.
OSHA also warns that welding should never be done in confined spaces without adequate ventilation.
Welding Smoke and Fume Extraction Systems That Work
Kemper America specialises in German-engineered industrial welding exhaust systems. OSHA compliant welding fume extraction and filtering systems include:
- The Kemper CleanAir Tower that functions according to a displacement ventilation principle, removing polluted air from the workplace, and recirculating purified air. It is an ideal solution in situations where local extraction doesn’t work adequately.
- PlasmaFil and WeldFil units that automatically remove welding dust, smoke and fumes from the workplace.
- The KemJET 9000 extraction system that features filtration and central suction, reducing pollutants in working environments where conventional suction units cannot be used. The hot polluted air is extracted through an exhaust duct and giltered, before purified air is redistributed into the room. This system incorporates limited ductwork that can be wall mounted or floor supported.
Filtration units range from large central extraction units to wall mounted units and highly mobile portable units that can be moved around and used when and where they are needed in the workplace. What this welding equipment has in common is the ability to extract welding smoke, dust and fumes from the workplace and relace it with clean, purified air that is safe to breathe.