Welding has a number of hazards associated with it that include heat, fumes, flying debris, harmful dust, and even ultraviolet and infrared radiation. Without proper protective gear and procedures, the probability of injury skyrockets. CUST-O-FAB takes these hazards seriously and implements all industry-recommended safety procedures to keep our team safe.
Awareness Of Potential Hazards Is The First Step
The danger in the “smoke” caused by welding is that it is a mixture of gases and extremely fine particles—otherwise known as fumes. And the toxicity of the welding substances that are found in the smoke depends on what materials are being welded. In addition to fumes, welding involves intense heat and sparks that can cause eye and skin burns, fires, and explosions. Possible injuries to the eyes include “welder’s flash” and burns from flying bits of hot slag and metal chips.
If combustible or flammable materials (such as compressed gas cylinders) are nearby, the heat and sparks produced by welding can cause fires or explosions. There is also a danger of electric shock due to the dangers of arc welding.
The National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health’s (NIOSH’s) Hierarchy of Hazard Controls is a widely accepted method used by many operations to determine feasible and effective hazard control solutions. The concept is a standard in many industries and is a component of CUST-O-FAB’s safety procedures. Following the steps outlined in the hierarchy generally leads to implementation of safe work practices to mitigate the risk of injury.
5 Steps To Create A Safer Welding Environment
- Eliminating: Obviously, the most effective way to mitigate a hazard is to remove it entirely. But when the job duty is hazardous in and of itself, such as in the case of welding, then other measures must be taken.
- Substituting: This involves replacing something that could produce a hazard with something that is less hazardous. For instance, a base metallurgy might be able to be replaced with a metallurgy with lower toxicity.
- Engineering Controls: While engineering controls cannot completely get rid of a hazard, they can often isolate people from a hazard, such as in the case with local ventilation.
- Administrative Controls: These kind of controls change the way in which people conduct their work. Examples of administrative controls include changes in procedure, thorough employee training, and installing safety signs and warning labels.
- Personal Protective Equipment (PPE): PPE is the final control and is worn by employees to place a physical barrier between themselves and hazards. It is also considered the least effective method for controlling hazards. Welding PPE examples include welding helmets, respirators, flame-resistant clothing, and protective leather garments.
Welding Safety Precautions
Below are some basic fire prevention and protection precautions to follow in the welding, cutting and brazing standard:
- Responsible employees such as the fire watch, hot work supervisor and permit issuer must inspect the immediate and surrounding area within at least 35 feet from where hot work will take place. The purpose of this inspection is to identify and remove any hazards such as combustible or flammable materials.
- Fire extinguishers must always be accessible and working for immediate use
- In higher risk areas such as process units, the fire watch must remain at least 30 minutes once the welding or cutting operations have ended.
- A vital step prior to performing welding or any hot work is to conduct gas testing to verify the atmosphere is acceptable to strike an ignition source. COF requires gas testing readings immediately prior to performing hot work near flammable process equipment.
Areas in which welding is prohibited:
- Areas not authorized by the supervisor
- Areas in or near explosive atmospheres
- Areas that are close to large amounts of unstable or highly flammable materials
Personal Protective Equipment (PPE)
As the employer, CUST-O-FAB is required to identify the hazard and appropriate PPE needed to protect employees from the hazards, and does so with every project.
Requirements for eye protection include: welding hoods, face shields, and safety glasses (depending on the application). According to OSHA, “Helmets and face shields shall be arranged to protect the face, neck and ears from direct radiant heat from the arc.”
Welding hoods with the appropriate filter plates are intended to help protect users from arc rays and from weld sparks and spatters that strike directly against the helmet. However, they are not intended to protect against things such as grinding fragments, wire wheel bristles, slag chips, and similar hazards that can ricochet underneath a helmet. Additional eye/face protection should be worn to protect against these other possible hazards.
When arc cutting and arc welding with an open arc, OSHA requires operators to use helmets or face shields that have filter lenses, as well as cover plates. Nearby employees who are viewing the arc must also take the necessary protective measures. Safety glasses with a Shade 2 lens are recommended for general-purpose protection for those viewing, such as a supervisor or QC inspector.
Guidance in the safe setup and use of welding and cutting equipment, and the safe performance of welding and cutting operations includes many safe work controls such as:
- Flammable and inert gas assessments
- Confined space hazards, including isolating or removing gas supply hoses during breaks and shift change
- Protective clothing to minimize the potential for ignition, burning, trapping hot sparks, or electric shock
Adequate ventilation depends on the following factors:
- The overall volume and configuration of the space where the welding operations will occur
- The required ACH (air changes per hour)
- The number of welders and type of operations that may generate inert, flammable, or toxic contaminants
- The concentrations of specific flammable or toxic contaminants that are being generated
- Natural and mechanical air flow rate where operations are taking place
- Location of the welders’ and other workers’ breathing zones in relation to contaminants or sources
Natural ventilation is considered sufficient when necessary precautions are taken to keep the welder’s breathing zone away from the air contaminants and when sampling of the atmosphere shows that concentration of air contaminants are below allowable limits.
If operations do not fall within the natural ventilation guidelines, mechanical ventilation is required. Mechanical ventilation options generally fall into three basic categories:
• Local exhaust
• Local forced air
• General area mechanical air movement
CUST-O-FAB takes all of the above safety precautions when applicable. For further information on safe welding practices, please visit [https://www.osha.gov/Publications/OSHA_FS-3647_Welding.pdf reference from Rick Willson].