Michael Pierce - 8 June 2017
Welding is not as hazardous as some people believe, given that you have taken all necessary safety precautions. However welders who ignore these preventive measures are prone to risks of injuries including: fire, electric shock, exposure to harmful gases and fumes and other potential hazards. Guest blogger Michael Pierce explains more.
In accordance to the safety guidelines issued by the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) and the American Conference of Governmental Industrial Hygienists (ACGIH), employers must make sure that people using welding equipment at work:
- Have read and clearly understand the work instructions for the welding equipment they are using given by the manufacturer;
- Have thoroughly reviewed all of the data safety sheets;
- Comply to the implemented safety practices in the company.
Apart from the above precautions, welders should be aware of the following 5 most critical welding safety risks, and the preventive measures which need to be taken in order to avoid them:
- Hazardous fumes and gases
The fumes released from the welding process contain metal oxide compounds which are potentially harmful. In order to avoid any incidents, welders must work in places where there is sufficient ventilation and exhaust control, such as exhaust hoods, fans or another exhaust system. Welders should keep their heads out of the fumes. In case the exposure level to the fumes is higher than acceptable, welders should wear approved respirators. The ventilation and exhaust systems and the exposure levels need to be checked on a regular basis.
- Electric shock
This is a serious hazard for welders which can lead to serious injuries and unfortunately even to death due to the shock or the body’s reaction to the electric shock. This can occur when the welder touches two metal objects which have voltage between them and becomes part of the electrical circuit. The higher the voltage is - the bigger the risk of injury and even death. In welding, the biggest electrical shock hazard comes from suffering a secondary shock ranging from 20 to 100 volts from the arc welding circuit. Even 50 volts are enough to cause serious injuries and death. AC voltage is more likely to cause the heart of the person in contact to stop than DC voltage. It also makes it more difficult for the person in the circuit to let go and release themselves from the electrical current. To avoid this, the footwear website Mybootprint recommends that welders should wear suitable footwear or otherwise be insulated from the ground, and never touch the metal parts or the electrode of the electrode holder with their skin and clothing. Welders should always be wearing dry gloves to avoid the secondary electric shock. Also, the electrode holder must be inspected for any damage to the insulation, and if there is any - get it repaired or replace before proceeding with the welding. Even when it is not in use but it is turned on, welding equipment poses a risk of electric shock. Only qualified personnel should perform repairs of welding equipment.
- Fire or explosions
The extreme temperatures of the welding arc and the spatter and sparks created by it pose serious fire as well as explosion hazards. As safety precautions, welders must always make sure there are no liquid, gas or solid flammable materials at a radius of 35ft from the welding spot. Also, the fume exhaust systems can be fitted with additional fire prevention systems. Fire extinguishers should be placed nearby and regularly checked for conformity. Additional options are fire hoses or buckets full of sand. If there are flammable materials which cannot be removed in the area, they should be covered with fire resistant blankets or sheet metal. The welder must know where the fire alarm is.
- Unsuitable and insufficient personal protective equipment (PPE)
Welders should wear safety clothing which is flame resistant, durable and still allows them to move freely in order to perform their jobs. Leather and flame resistant cotton safety clothing are the recommended options. The skin must be covered at all times, and pants should be worn on top of the safety boots. Apart from the welding helmet, welders should always wear safety goggles or glasses with side shields. Safety work boots such as these with strong leather uppers, ankle coverage, metatarsal protection and guards covering the shoe laces are a must - to keep the feet protected from falling objects or sparks. Also, flame resistant leather or other gloves must be worn. Ear plus or muffs will help protect the ear drums from the noise.
- Additional safety considerations
When working in a confined space, welders must pay closer attention to the work environment and take extra safety precautions to remain safe, and other employees to be safe during the welding. Clutter and other debris must be removed periodically to prevent from tripping. Welders should be careful when handling the sharp edges of the cans of electrode. Always make sure the welding equipment and the PPE is not damaged before starting to work.