It’s not just about fumes.
By Dave Comiono
Dave Comiono is general sales manager at EMH Inc.
Many safety articles have been dedicated to the issue of dangerous fumes in the welding process. In fact thousands of lawsuits have been filed across the country in recent years primarily against the manufacturers of welding rod and welders, but so far most of them have been cleared of responsibility.
Companies that use welding in the plant process also have been spared most of this litigation, but it is clear that, given the nature of our society and business today, this should never be taken for granted. As in all areas of safety, common sense, proper documented procedures and records, and knowledge of current safety regulations are the best course.
Fumes are just one of the issues to be considered and can clearly be avoided by making sure that welding takes place in a well-ventilated area. If welding is performed in a confined space, smoke eater systems and/or forced air should be provided to remove the smoke and fumes from the welding area.
In addition to the fumes issue, many other precautions need to be followed and should be reinforced with the employees. For example, fire is a known potential problem. Welders are capable of creating temperatures in excess of 10,000 degrees F. Make sure the area is clear of flammable materials or liquids, and always make use of fire-resistant barriers. In certain situations, it may be wise to have another employee stand by with a fire extinguisher.
Personal protection is very important. Many welding tasks can be short-term, especially in the equipment maintenance or form repair areas. Ignore the inner voice that tells you, “This will only take a second,” as it only takes a second for a serious issue to arise. Make sure employees perform proper welding machine startup and inspections, and insist that everyone take that little extra time to wear the proper fire-resistant clothing. Eye and ear protection for both the welder and other employees in the area should never be compromised.
Proper training and appropriate certification whenever possible are very important. A lack of experience and knowledge of the welding equipment can definitely cause trouble. The correct setup of the work piece and welder are critical to avoid electrical shock. This must include proper grounding, a nearby safety disconnect and correctly sized line protection on a dedicated circuit. If the welding area is damp, as in a kiln area, make sure the welder wears rubber gloves under the welding gloves.
Proper welding cable management and maintenance are also critical. Make sure cables are not worn and that they are not pinched or otherwise obstructed. Also make sure they are clear of fork trucks and heavy equipment traffic.
Cylinder management is a common safety issue. Keep them upright, away from traffic and heat, and chained when in use and in storage. Turn heads and faces away when opening the valve, and use proper valve protection caps.
Make sure you know what you are welding. Coatings and special metals, or materials that have been in contact with hazardous substances, can cause serious chemical reactions and the release of extremely dangerous gases.
These precautions are only a quick review of the issues involved in safe welding. Many good sources are available for training and research including the Internet, welding rod and machine manufacturers, your local welding supplier, and of course OSHA, ANSI, the American Welding Society and OHS Canada.
Encourage your employees to ask questions if in doubt so that a welding-related incident does not occur at your facility.