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By Nick May
In welding and fabrication shops, the safety and welfare of employees is first and foremost. When welding, whether on large commercial projects, small local buildings or fabricating welded cages, many safety procedures must be considered before starting the project. This includes proper equipment that meets safety regulations; secure surroundings; an efficient workplace with appropriate lighting and comfortable temperature; easily accessed equipment and materials; and, of course, first aid and safety equipment.
OSHA outlines several regulations that pertain specifically to welding, and more than 25 states have their own specific regulations, so you should familiarize yourself and your crew with all pertinent standards. Here we will outline three areas that can help keep welders and others in the shop safe.
Safety equipment and clothing
Safety equipment is a must when welding. Start with gauntlet-style welding gloves that are dry and water resistant with no holes or tears, a welding helmet and either a heavy cotton shirt or a jacket made specifically for welding. Wear heavy boots and pants that cover the tops of the boots. Make sure you are not wearing loose or long pieces of clothing. When welding in a confined space, use a welding helmet with forced air or use respirators.
Respirators should be applicable and suitable for the purpose intended. Depending on the type of respirator, the employee may have to be fit-tested as well. This requires a medical evaluation.
You should prepare a large and heavy surface for welding. The welding table should be sturdy enough so that it won’t tip over, especially when working with extremely hot metal. In case of fire, all employees should know where the closest fire extinguisher is located, and all extinguishers must be fully charged. In special circumstances, post an assistant to act as a fire watch.
Never weld on drums, tanks or any closed containers unless properly trained and qualified personnel have authorized it.
Secure your surroundings
Make sure your surroundings are safe and secure. Remove flammable material from the work space, including paper, clothing, combustible items and liquids. Frequently check that all wires and electrical circuits are functioning and not damaged. Any damaged electrical outlets or wires must be tagged and replaced before returning them to work. Turn off and disconnect all equipment when not in use, out of service or damaged.
Read all instructions and manuals before operating welding equipment. To keep from tripping or falling, make sure the work area is clutter-free and prohibit horseplay. Welding curtains may be used to contain welding activities. Get to know and understand the safety guidelines that apply to other shop equipment as well, including grinders, saws, hand tools and machinery.
When welding galvanized or painted surfaces, toxic fumes may be released. Remove the coating by grinding prior to welding. Use a respirator, even in a well-ventilated area or when welding outdoors. Certain types of metals also require the use of a respirator. Make sure all people welding are trained and qualified for the job.
Convenience in the welding workplace should be a priority. Ergonomics is the science of specific design for efficiency. Design the work area with input from your welders. Consider the materials your welders will need and place them within reach.
The lighting, temperature and noise levels should also meet the needs of the workers. The welding environment should be well-ventilated, using fans and extraction devices to remove fumes from the immediate breathing zone and welding area.
Keep the welding area free from containers of combustible materials, paper, cloth, paint, oil or grease. Be cognizant of where others are working and what they are doing, as sparks from welding can travel some distance from the welding area. Always warn co-workers when you are about to start welding.
Welding arcs produce intensely brilliant light including visible, infrared and ultraviolet (UV) rays; UV can cause permanent eye damage. People who visit precast plants during production should be cautioned to not look directly at the bright light from welding operations; ordinary sunglasses do not provide eye protection.
The above safety tips may seem very basic, but they can prevent injury. Established safety standards can easily be forgotten, especially when pressed for time – even for veteran welders.
For further information on the safety procedures required for welding, refer to OSHA section 1910.252 for general requirements and outlines.