Safety is absolutely critical to consider for any welding project and, like many occupations, welding is only safe when the proper precautions are taken. Organizations like the American Conference of Governmental Industrial Hygienists (ACGIH) and the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) offer safety guidelines to help control, minimize, and prevent welding safety hazards.
All employers should make sure that their workers have the opportunity to comply with important manufacturer instructions for equipment, material safety data sheets, and your company’s internal safety practices.
Awareness of the most common safety hazards in welding, and how to avoid them, is the best possible way to ensure a safe and productive work environment for everyone.
Electric shock is one of the most serious and most immediate risks on the work site. These can lead to very serious injury, and even death, both from the shock itself, or from a fall caused by the shock. Electric shocks occur when welders touch two metal objects at the same time that have a voltage between them. Essentially what’s happening, is the welder is inserting him or herself into the electrical circuit. A common example would be that if a worker holds a bare wire in one hand and another bare wire with the other hand, an electric current will pass between the wires, through the worker.
The higher the voltage is, the higher the current will be, and the higher the current, the higher the risk for the electric shock to do serious damage. The most common type of electric shock is a secondary voltage shock, which comes from an arc welding circuit, and ranges from 20 to 100 bolts. Even a shock of 50 volts or less can be enough to cause injury or death, depending on the circumstances. Alternating current voltage is more likely to stop the heart, because of the constant change in polarity. It’s also more likely to make the person holding the wire unable to let go.
To properly avoid injury or death by electric shock, welding operators should wear dry, well-kept gloves and should never touch the electrode or electrode holder with wet clothing or skin. They should also be sure that they insulate themselves from the work and the ground—this means keeping dry insulation between their body and the metal being welded.
The electrode holder should always be inspected before anything is done to it, and the welding cable and electrode holder insulation should be well maintained. Always replace or repair damaged insulation, and remember that electrodes are always electrically “hot,” even when welding is not being done.
Fumes and Gases
Being overexposed to welding fumes and gases can be very hazardous to your health—welding fumes contain complex metal oxide compounds from consumables, base metal, and the base-metal coatings, which can be harmful to you. It’s important to keep your head out of the fumes and to use enough ventilation and/or exhaust to control your exposure. Every welding area should have adequate ventilation and local exhaust to keep all fumes and gases from the breathing zone or general area.
All welding operators should be aware of ACGIH threshold limit values and OSHA permissible exposure limits for the substances in welding fumes—these limits specify the amount of a substance in your breathing air that your workers can safely be exposed to.
If the air in your breathing zone isn’t clear, or if you find breathing uncomfortable, check to make sure that the ventilation equipment is doing its job, and notify a supervisor immediately if not.
Taking all of these precautions is especially important when you’re working with stainless steel and hardfacing products. To prevent exposure from coatings like paint and galvanizing, clean the base metal before welding.
Fire and Explosions
The welding arc creates very extreme temperatures, and can pose serious hazards if not handled safely. While the welding arc may reach temperatures of 10,000 degrees, it’s more the sparks and the spatter created by the arc that pose a threat to safety. And the spatter can reach up to 35 feet away from the welding space.
To prevent fires, thoroughly inspect your work area for any flammable materials and remove them if you can. This includes flammable liquids like gasoline, oil, and paint, flammable solids like wood, cardboard, and paper, and flammable gases like acetylene, propane, and hydrogen.
Be aware of where all fire alarms and extinguishers are located, and make sure the gauges on your extinguishers are full. If you don’t have one, make sure you have clear access to fire hoses, sand buckets, etc., and of course know the location of the nearest fire exit.
If you can’t remove flammable materials, cover them with fire resistant material and have a fire watcher nearby to keep track of sparks. Have them stay in the work area for at least 30 minutes after you’re done welding to make sure there are no smoldering fires.
If there is a fire, don’t panic. Utilize your fire safety equipment and your fire exit or exits, and call the fire department immediately.
Injuries from Insufficient PPE
Personal protective equipment, or PPE, helps keep welding operators free from injury, including the most common kind—burns. The right PPE allows for freedom of movement, while still providing the necessary protection from welding hazards. Leather and flame-resistant treated cotton clothing is what’s recommended to wear in welding environments. Synthetic material, on the other hand like polyester or rayon, will melt when exposed to extreme heat.
Always avoid rolling up sleeves or cuffs—sparks or hot metal can settle into the folds and burn through the material. Keep pants over the top of work boots instead of tucking them in to prevent sparks and debris from falling into your shoes. Boots should have six to eight inches of ankle coverage. Even with a helmet on, always wear safety glasses with side shields, and wear ear plugs or muffs if you’re working in a loud environment to protect your hearing.
Almost all welding safety hazards can be avoided with proper awareness, so make sure your team is equipped with the right gear and the right knowledge! For more information, tips, and news, visit Southern Field today.