Welding plays a part in many industries such as the automotive industry, the construction industry, the aviation industry, and more. It is almost impossible to imagine our everyday surroundings without this form of metalwork, as it has allowed us to make so many things, including many buildings, gates, fences, small kitchen appliances, vehicles, etc.
Welders face life-threatening hazards each day they turn up for their shift. The risk of electrocution, fire and explosion, burns, electric shock, vision damage, inhalation of poisonous gases and fumes, and exposure to intense ultraviolet radiation is a real and present danger.
Keep reading for more information on the dangers of welding and ways of minimizing them.
What is Welding?
Welding is a fabrication process whereby two or more parts are fused together by means of heat, pressure, or both forming a join as the parts cool. Welding is usually used on metals and thermoplastics but can also be used on wood. The completed welded joint may be referred to as a weldment.
Some materials require the use of specific processes and techniques. A number is considered ‘unweldable,’ a term not usually found in dictionaries but useful and descriptive in engineering.
The parts that are joined are known as the parent material. The material added to help form the join is called filler or consumable. The form of these materials may see them referred to as parent plate or pipe, filler wire, consumable electrode (for arc welding), etc.
Consumables are usually chosen to be similar in composition to the parent material, thus forming a homogenous weld, but there are occasions, such as when welding brittle cast irons, when a filler with a very different composition and, therefore, properties is used. These welds are called heterogeneous.
The completed welded joint may be referred to as a weldment.
Dangers and Risks of Welding
Welding operations present several hazards to both those undertaking the activity and others in the vicinity. Therefore, it’s important that you are aware of the risks and hazards welding poses and understand what precautions you can take to protect yourself.
Undertaking welding activities will expose you to invisible gaseous fumes, including ozone, nitrogen oxides, chromium and nickel oxides, and carbon monoxide, which can easily penetrate your lungs. Depending on the gas or fume, the concentration, and the duration of your exposure, the resultant damage can be severe.
There is no minimum safe exposure limit for welding fume. Employers are legally required to effectively control exposure to all types of welding fume, including that mild steel welding.
Welding can also lead to illnesses that can not only be lifelong problems but can also prove to be fatal. One of these illnesses is Pneumonia. Regular exposure to welding fumes and gases can result in a lung infection which could then develop into pneumonia. While antibiotics usually stop the infection, severe pneumonia can result in hospitalization, serious illness, and fatalities.
Occupational asthma is also another problem. Chromium oxides and nickel oxides produced by stainless steel and high nickel alloy welding can both cause asthma.
Cancer is another huge problem. All welding fumes are internationally considered ‘carcinogenic.’
Another problem is metal fume fever. Welding or hot work on galvanized metal and high steel weld fume exposure can often result in ‘flu-like’ symptoms, which are usually worse at the start of the working week. You might have heard that drinking milk before welding will help you avoid developing metal fume fever, but this is a myth.
Throat and lung irritation, including throat dryness, tickling of the throat, coughing, and tight chests.
Reducing the Risks from Welding
Regular welders will weld for most of their shifts and carry out different types of welding and other associated activities on the same day, depending on their job requirements. Their exposure to welding fume will be regular and of significant duration or high intensity. They will require adequate controls to protect them from the risk of developing occupational lung diseases.
Sporadic welders will carry out welding infrequently when it is incidental to their main manufacturing operation. Engineered fume controls will not normally be expected for occasional welding carried out less than once each week and lasting less than 1 hour.
In these situations, ensure that respiratory protective equipment (RPE) and good general ventilation are provided to control exposure to welding fume. But, you must also consider the protection of others nearby and ensure the general ventilation is effective at removing and dispersing the welding fume.
For example, a car mechanic wearing RPE with good general ventilation in the workplace, carrying out an occasional short welding job on a car with a broken exhaust support bracket, would meet the minimum requirement for compliance. Ju
If you cannot achieve adequate control from LEV alone, or it is not reasonably practicable to provide LEV, you must provide your workers with suitable respiratory protective equipment (RPE). Also, consider any other workers exposed to the welding fume, considering the level of general ventilation provided and excluding unprotected people from welding areas.
You cannot rely on LEV to effectively capture welding fume at outdoor operations. So, for any welding outdoors, you must provide suitable RPE and consider the protection of others nearby.
A powered air respirator or a supplied air respirator that combines respiratory, eye, and face protection, with an APF of at least 20, is the best option for arc welders. Otherwise, if tight-fitting RPE is used, it can become uncomfortable to wear, leading to workers loosening or removing the RPE.
For work not expected to exceed one hour, an FFP3 tight-fitting disposable mask or re-usable half-mask with a P3 filter may be adequate to protect against particulates if the wearer is clean-shaven, but these particulate filters will not protect workers from welding gases contained in the fume.
RPE must be suitable for each wearer. Face fit testing for devices with a tight-fitting face seal will ensure the equipment selected is suitable for each worker.
You should have an RPE management program that includes:
Suitable face-fit testing, stock of spare parts, for example, batteries and filters Clean storage of RPE when not used.Compatibility with personal protective equipment (PPE) you have provided for the task, for example, a welding visor
Welding has become such a crucial part of our infrastructure that even if we take all its risks and evaluate them against the progress that has been made it would overwhelm the risks.
However, this doesn’t mean that we should not take care and be responsible for the Welders. Their lives and be severely affected by their jobs, and it is our responsibility to minimize these risks as much as possible.