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Welding hazards: Here’s how to protect your employees

11/02/23 6 min reading time Welding shopsWelding fumesHealth

With a wide array of potential hazards – ranging from the inhalation of gases and fumes to incidents involving burns and electrical shocks – welding is, without doubt, a dangerous profession. If something goes wrong, it could put your employee(s) out of action, damaging their health and impacting your business. So, we’re getting into detail about the risks your employees are exposed to and what you can do to protect them.

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Welding hazards affect your entire company

When welding, not only do sparks fly, but it also gets hot. So, as any welder will know, welding halls are generally not a safe working environment, with risks ranging from inhaling gases and vapours to burns and electric shocks. 

Failing to protect your employees from these risks, can lead to serious workplace health issues that can damage the overall business. For example, with high rates of sick leave and low employee morale. And in some instances, employees can even lose the ability to work.

So, here are five welding hazards you must be aware of as an employer – and what you can do to mitigate the risks.

5 welding risks your employees are exposed to

1. Gases and vapours

Gases and fumes are by-products of most welding operations and welders are exposed to many of these over the course of their professional lives. 

For example, if zinc fumes and galvanized metal react with each other, unprotected employees can contract metal fume fever. The symptoms include:  

  • Night sweats,  
  • Body aches,  
  • Fatigue,  
  • Nausea. 

Unfortunately, while the nose plays an important role in filtering smoke, fumes and dust, it's of little use here. This is because the particles produced by welding machines are so fine that they get past the nasal filters into the paranasal sinuses and throat and settle directly in the lungs. 

    How to protect your employees:
    There are various precautions you can put in place. For example, a cooling fan will help blow these gases away. Or, you could provide your staff with suitable respiratory masks.

    However, the best way to ensure your employees are protected is to install an air cleaning system which filters harmful particles from the air before they can be inhaled by your workers. These are so effective because they filter even those particles from the air that made it past your extraction systems.

    2. Noise

    Admittedly, welding usually doesn't produce as much noise as grinding metal. But the sound is still loud enough to cause minor nerve cell damage. While minor, this consistent exposure adds up and can eventually lead to hearing loss.

    Young welders often underestimate or dismiss the health risks associated with the noise their work creates. The resulting damage can take years to manifest, but when it does, there is no cure.

    How to protect your employees:
    Provide them with appropriate ear protection and make it compulsory for them to wear it.

    3. Electric shocks

    Unlike gases, fumes and noise, electric shocks are an imminent hazard to which all welders are exposed when doing electrical welding work.

    As explained by Lincoln Electric, electric shock occurs when welders touch two metal objects with an electrical current running between them. For instance, if a worker holds a bare wire in one hand and another bare wire in their other hand, an electric current will travel from one wire to the other by passing through the welding operator – causing an electric shock.

    How to protect your employees:

    • Welding operators must always wear dry gloves that are in good condition.
    • They must take absolute care to never touch the electrode, or the metal parts of the electrode holder, with their bare skin or wet clothing.
    • The floor should also be properly insulated.

    4. UV radiation

    It is essential that welders protect their eyes and skin from radiation exposure. Prolonged exposure to these rays can lead to permanent eye injury and skin disorders.

    Colloquial terms like “welder’s tie” are no coincidence, referring to a sunburn that welders often get in the skin area between shirt and mask. As regular burns of this type can lead to skin cancer, they are not to be underestimated.

      How to protect your employees:
      The only way to prevent this is to provide your welders with proper protective eye-shades and overalls. Make sure that all safety glasses have side shields to protect your workers’ eyes from flying particles.

      Helmet-type shields and hand-held face shields offer the most complete shading against arc radiation. The shade slips into a window at the front of the shield, so it can be removed and replaced easily. These shields are made from hard plastic or fiberglass. They protect the head, face, ears and neck from electric shocks, heat, sparks, and flames. Four birds with one stone!

      5. Fires and explosions

      Yes, welding gets hot. But that’s a bit of an understatement. In fact, welding creates extreme heat that poses a constant fire hazard. Any leaks in tubing will allow oxygen and fuel gas to mix and potentially combust. What’s more, welding processes cause hot sparks that can ignite if they come into contact with combustible materials.

      Dust can also be extremely volatile when caught in the heat of the welding arc or met with a hot spark. Fine dust particles may readily oxidize without warning, resulting in a flash fire or even an explosion.

      This is why, without proper fire precautions in place, your welding facility is a dangerous place to work.

      How to protect your employees:
      Place your welders far away from areas where there are flammable materials such as gasoline, paper, or oil paints. 

      Welding work in dusty areas is also extremely dangerous. You should therefore take care to keep the amount of dust around you as small as possible.

      But your welding staff aren’t the only ones at risk!

      Workers who aren’t even involved in the welding process can also be affected by the hazards associated with welding. Because the particles in the welding fumes are so light, they can hover in the air for many days and travel long distances – even the smallest puffs of air are enough to get them moving. This means that welding fumes can be inhaled even by those who have nothing to do with the welding process itself.  

      For example, measurements we took in one of our mini studies showed that the concentration of welding fumes was greatest in the hall where people move freely through the building without protective masks. 

      This indicates the importance of taking proper action to protect your employees.

      How to protect your employees from welding fumes

      When your employees breathe in welding fumes, it can lead to:

      • Increased absenteeism due to illness,
      • High staff turnover,
      • A bad corporate image.

      However, while welding is dangerous work, it can be done safely if the appropriate measures are taken. That's why we recommend installing an air purification system from Zehnder Clean Air Solutions.

      Zehnder Clean Air Solutions cleans the air in your facility from ceiling to floor, making sure that no fumes pile up and particles are caught before your employees can inhale them.

      Make sure your welders can breathe easily
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