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Welding hazards – here’s how to protect your employees


A dangerous profession

Welding is a dangerous profession. There are plenty of welding hazards, ranging from the inhalation of gases and fumes, to incidents involving burns and electrical shocks.

Failing to protect your employees from these risks, can lead to serious workplace health issues that can damage the overall business. Welding is a dangerous job. If something goes wrong, an employee could be unable to work for some time, or in some extreme cases, ever again. As an employer, here are five welding hazards you must be aware of – and what you can do to mitigate the risks.

What makes welding so dangerous?

Gases and fumes

Gases and fumes are by-products of most welding processes. In the course of their careers, welders are exposed to many potentially toxic vapors. If, for example, zinc vapors and galvanised metal react, exposed workers can fall sick with Metal Fume Fever. The symptoms are unpleasant and include night sweats, body aches, fatigue and nausea. Prolonged exposure can be severely detrimental to the health of your employees.

As explained on The Fabricator, the nose plays an important part in filtering smoke, fumes and dust from the air. However, welding machines create some very small particles that can slip past the nasal filters, into the sinus cavity, down the throat and settle in the lungs.

To protect your employees from these fumes – and the resulting health issues like those caused by Metal Fume Fever – a cooling fan will help blow the gases away. Or, you could provide your staff with respiratory masks. However, the best way to ensure your employees are protected is to install an air cleaning system. This is a very effective way to filter harmful particles from the air before they can be inhaled by your workers.

Noise

The welding process doesn’t typically create as much noise as metal grinding processes, 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.

To protect your workers from this welding hazard, provide them with appropriate ear protection and make it compulsory for them to wear it.

Electric shock

Unlike gases, fumes and noise, electric shock is an immediate risk all welders face 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.

To avoid this, 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 to reduce the risk of an electric shock.

Exposure to 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. 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.

This article on EHSToday states that 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.

Fires and explosions

Welding processes produce extreme heat which creates a fire risk. 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.

To mitigate these risks, position your welding equipment far away from any area that houses combustible materials like gasoline, paper or oil-based paints. Welding work performed in dusty areas is also incredibly dangerous.

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

Without the proper fire precautions in place, your facility is a dangerous place to work. To reduce the fire risks associated with welding, reduce the amount of dust particles in your factory or warehouse. Air cleaning systems capture dust particles that hover in the air before they have the opportunity to settle on workstations and machinery. To reduce the risk of fire significantly, install a system like Zehnder Clean Air Solutions.

Clean air, less welding fumes

While welding is dangerous work, it can be done safely if the appropriate measures are taken. Always make sure your staff are provided with the appropriate personal protective equipment. It’s also very important that you keep the air in your facility as clean as possible. This will reduce the volume of potentially toxic fumes as well as the fire risks associated with dust.

Get your welding compliance guide to learn more

How Zehnder can help manage welding fumes

Fumes cannot be avoided, but they must be controlled. When it comes to welding fumes, your employees’ health is at stake. In general, the more you are exposed, the greater the risk to your health. One of the easiest ways to this threat is by installing a system like 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 pose a health and safety risk. Our guide explains more.

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