Welding safety, like any other industrial operation, should be a priority in all workshops. In the first place, to protect operators should be a goal for any company.
But also, when avoiding accidents, company infrastructure and operations keep in good condition. Finally, by avoiding accidents time and resources can be saved.
Safety is so important that it takes the lead in Safety, Quality, Delivery, and Cost (SQDC); a management approach developed for Automotive British companies.
Safety, Quality, Delivery, and Cost at welding
SQDC is acronymous for Safety, Quality, Delivery, and Cost. Since its introduction have been applied to a number of other industries, such as manufacturing, construction, etc.
Nowadays is pretty much a standard methodology for all types of industries. The resulting data can help companies identify what they need to do to improve.
The purpose of the SQDC approach is to break down big issues that any company may face into small, manageable ones.
This has a twofold result: teams and supervisors are not overwhelmed by a large issue and, once the big issues have been divided, can be addressed easily by prioritizing some tasks over other ones.
Regarding safety, methodology SQDC can be easily applied to avoid accidents and reduce potentially dangerous issues for the staff. Some numbers can help us to see the bigger picture of this topic.
Why welding safety is important
Safety when welding is so important that several organizations, like AWS, ANSI, NEMA, NFPA, have produced standards and information about it.
For example, in the UK, out of the around 190,000 welding-related workers for 2018, 150 of them died from cancer caused by welding.
Other around 2,200 deaths are related also to cancer due to past welding work in manufacturing industries. At the same time, some 4,000 workers were suffering from breathing and lung problems by welding.
But the problems caused by the breathing of dangerous fumes is just one of the many related to welding. Operators should also be taught about how to avoid skin and eye burns. The welding arc can cause blindness, due to the brilliance produced.
Some parts of the body, like arms, hands, and feet can be harmed by misuse of the welding equipment. It is evident that a review of how to avoid welding-related accidents in the workshop is convenient for both companies and workers.
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How to avoid skin and eye burn to accomplish welding safety
The eyes are quite the most important sense we have as humans. Scientists community has stated that the skin is the largest human organ. So, take proper care of both of them is very important.
About skin damage and how to avoid it
Welders are exposed to molten metals and hot slag constantly. If they don’t wear the right protective clothing, they could get harm seriously.
Welding operators should wear clothing and gloves that protect against UV radiation. Not only them but anybody in the area closeby should wear protective clothing, especially if chipping hammers are used.
This is because with only exposing the skin to arc welding, people can get second and third-degree burns. Many companies get fire-resistant protective equipment for the welding operators and the others around them.
In any case, welder operators should remain fully covered when performing, in order to avoid burns and long-term consequences.
About eye damage
For workers as welding operators, eyes are essential, because they need to clearly see what they are about to weld. That is the reason behind taking so much care to avoid eye damage.
Nevertheless, eye injuries represent 25% of the total welding-related accidents. So, there is still room for improvement. When welding, hot metal drops, and sparks can fly around the welding area and injure the operator’s eyes.
Another risk is relative to eyes is known as welder’s flash, caused by the infrared and ultraviolet radiation produced by the electrical arc.
If wearing no protection when welding, an operator can get temporary blind and suffer vision discomfort. Even more, if he continues going like that, he can get permanently blind.
How to avoid eye damage
The best way to avoid eye damage is to wear the right eye protection equipment. As only wearing welding helmets can not be enough, is advisable to use goggles or safety glasses.
Some goggles and safety glasses can come with shade. The regulations about the required shade can vary from country to country, but usually, something between 3-8 is good.
It is also a good idea to isolate the welding area with curtains or screens. This will absorb radiation and protect other workers around them. By the way, if other workers besides the welder are around, they also should wear eye protection.
Keep away from fumes and gases
First, we need to establish that fumes and gases are not the same things. What they have in common is that both causes short-term and long-term health damage. So, let’s split this section into two parts.
About the fumes
Fumes are formed when a metal is melted and its vapors get condensed into very small solid particles. Those particles can be 1/20 part of the thickness of a human hair and generally contain parts of the electrode and part of the material welded.
Often, these fumes are a mix of metallic oxides, silicates, and fluorides, but this composition may vary.
For example, fumes from mild steel welding can contain mostly iron with little bits of vanadium, manganese, titanium, cobalt, copper, among others. On the other hand, fumes from stainless steel welding, besides iron, contain also parts of nickel and chromium.
About the gases
The welding process requires sometimes the use of gases, and also, as a byproduct, more gases are produced.
Some of the gases normally used for welding are:
- Carbon dioxide
As well, some gases produced from welding are:
- Carbon dioxide
- Carbon monoxide
- Nitrogen oxide
- Hydrogen chloride
Besides those, sometimes the welding is carried out in coated materials. When that happens, the coatings break down and also produces gases like:
- Hydrogen cyanide
- Isocyanate vapors
How to prevent hazardous exposure to welding fumes and gases
When working outdoors, fumes and gases from welding don’t represent such a problem, because operators use to perform upwind.
There are a number of solutions or ideas that can be put into practice to avoid or reduce welding fumes and gases in the indoor workshop. Let’s review some of them.
Not use fans to divert fumes
Some times, in a sincere effort to reduce fumes toward welders, a fan is set up close by the welding area. What this produces is that welding fumes become everybody’s problem. So the damage grows bigger.
Instead of spread fumes and gases is convenient to set up a local exhaust ventilation system. There are several types of exhaustion systems. Some of them include portable vacuum nozzles.
Set vacuum nozzles to take dirty air
This is an optimal solution for any workshop because this way polluted air doesn’t spread around, but instead, it is drawn away from the workshop.
When using this system, it is important that the operator set the nozzle close to the welding puddle, so the dirty air can get caught and don’t affect the welder.
Capturing the fumes and gases at the source is probably the best method to control everybody’s exposition to hazards related to welding.
Ventilate tight spots
Sometimes the piece to weld is small and difficult to be reached. In those cases is a good idea to set up any ventilation at the place. A portable exhaustion system is ideal for this type of situation.
In any case, a welder should not be allowed to work if there is no ventilation at all in the area.
Remove coatings in the welding area
To remove any present coating in the area to be welded is required for welding quality. It is a must.
In many cases, some strong chemical products are used to that end, and if the welding is done right after, this can cause a mix of gases to get spread in the area.
A good recommendation to avoid this can be to use water-based degreasers and allow enough time between the removing and the welding.
Contain robotic welding spaces
Since is so fast and efficient, robotic welding produces a lot of fumes and gases. In normal conditions, close to some welding robots may be an operator.
To protect this and other workers closeby is convenient to set a closed environment around the welding robot. Also, an exhaust system can be positioned so that fumes and gases can be drawn away from workers around them.
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How to avoid body injuries and improve welding safety
Since welders use to work long shifts with awkward positions in cramped environments, it is not a surprise that sometimes they can get their bodies injured.
For example, a welder using a helmet has a limited view range, so inadvertently can touch an extremely hot metal piece or get caught with some cables. But ear damage is one of the most common body injuries welders can have.
Ear damage from excessive noise
Ears are clearly in danger for welders for excessive noise and particles. On average, a welder is exposed to about 85 decibels when performing.
That is precisely the maximum noise allowed by OSHA for an average worker in 8 hours daily work. For comparison, a normal noise level in an office is around 45-60 decibels, and a vacuum cleaner can be 70.
But besides the noise, other possible damage can come from particles that can fly from the welding pudding and get into the ear tunnel. The internal ear canals are quite delicate, and a number of welders work without any protection there.
In order to avoid both possible damages, is a good recommendation to wear earplugs or something similar. Whatever the company provides as ear protection should be enough to reduce noise and cover the ear canals.
How to avoid fires
In any welding area, starting a fire is a real possibility. A fire can get started by sparks falling from the welding puddle and getting in contact with flammable objects nearby. So, in order to avoid fires, there are a number of actions to be done:
Clean the area
A starting fire can take just a few seconds to spread around an entire workshop. For that reason is recommendable to clean an area of about 35 feet around the welding spot.
Within this security area, no flammable material should be located. If for any reason, is impossible to move something, it should be covered by a non-flammable material.
Among flammable materials can be cardboard boxes, dust, cans of paint, dry leaves, gas cylinders, wood, solvents and cleaning products, to name a few.
Wear appropriate PPE
Even when taking the most rigorous measures, all welders should wear an appropriate personal protective equipment.
The sparks from the welding usually fall into the welder body. If not rightly protected -for example, by wearing synthetic clothes- a fire can get started easily. Welders should wear protective clothes that cover their entire bodies, even feet.
Keep an extinguisher close by
Even when you put into practice all these suggestions, a fire can get started anyway. So, a really good idea is to keep an extinguisher near the welding area.
This way, in case of a fire, can get eliminated in its first stages. Actually, extinguishers are only effective when the fire is just starting.
In some workshops, besides an extinguisher, they set some operator as a fire watcher. This person is responsible for monitoring the welding spot, to alert if any risk is emerging.
They have to keep watching up to 30 minutes after the job is finished, to be completely sure that no fire is going to get started.
You are not alone in this
We, the people at IFExport have been working with industrial processes, like welding, since 1979. So, we can tell you one thing or two about it.
Actually, we have a good number of products related to welding safety that can be needed in any type of fabrication company.
Helping our clients to improve their safety and health when welding is one of our goals. We can’t wait to apply our expertise to your workshop also.