This article looks at some of the safety issues arising from fumes produced by various welding processes, and at how you can best protect yourself and your employees.
Welding is classified as a “hot work” process, and as such attracts its own set of regulatory obligations on the part of the employer; especially in confined spaces. However, the hazards posed by airborne products of the welding and soldering processes are diverse and insidious, deserving careful consideration by employers and welders themselves.
Heating metals causes a small quantity to be oxidised and vapourised. The microscopic particles become part of the atmosphere which the welder and bystanders are breathing. Each of the metals used in welding processes has its own toxicology, but a typical cocktail, if inhaled over time, produces an array of symptoms; one in particular commonly known as “Metal Fume Fever”. Symptoms can resemble those of the flu, and tend to abate when welding is discontinued, for instance at weekends. Sufferers often report a metallic taste in the mouth. In extreme exposure cases they will experience chronic and life threatening symptoms especially when welding galvanized products. Transient though some of these acute symptoms may be, welding fumes can cause long-term physiological damage, including brain damage and various forms of cancer. Arc welding produces ozone, which irritates the upper respiratory tract, often with delayed long-term effects.
As well as inhaled contaminants, various toxic metals like chromium compounds that are released in the welding of stainless steels can cause skin irritations, accelerating the onset of various forms of dermatitis.
In addition to metal fumes from the welding process, welding performed on existing structures can release all sorts of toxic vapours from paint and other substances adjacent to the heated weld area.
With such a diverse range of toxins to protect your workers from, it makes sense to take measures aimed at precluding, or at least minimising any exposure of your workers to them. By the same token, the diversity of risk mechanisms means that no single measure will be successful, meaning employers and managers should use a combination of personal protection – hoods, goggles, gloves, etc. – together with workplace control measures, to achieve a safe welding environment.
We’ll come to personal protection in a moment, but first, here are some workplace steps you should consider:
The Welding Technology Institute of Australia has invaluable guidance on fume minimisation.
Equip your welders, and any assistants who may be required to stand close to the work, with the best possible personal protective equipment and apparel. A wide range of personal protection is available. Air-fed helmets, air-purifying respirators, eye protection, protective clothing, gloves, screens and ventilation equipment should have Australian Standards certification, and you should only use products which meet or exceed these. Don’t consider cheap imports with no standards licenses.
The team at SafetyQuip are well trained and will be happy to assist you in selecting the right equipment to protect your workforce. They also have access to the best supplier knowledge in the world for the added “insurance” of Local Knowledge; Safer Workers.
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At SafetyQuip, we stock every kind of safety equipment and PPE, including respiratory protection, HI VIS safety workwear, height safety and skin protection. We stock safety equipment for materials handling, with ladders, platforms and elevated work spaces. And we’ve got you covered for personal protective equipment for the feet, with waterproof and steel capped work boots, plus a range of accessories.Read More