Every day, accidents happen due to carelessness during welding operations. Sometimes it is as little as a minor burn, but other days it can be catastrophic.
At Kimball Midwest, safety always is a priority, and we offer safety seminars in welding and many other topics.
But safety always starts with you and your senses. Trust your gut. If something doesn’t feel or look right, take the time to check it out. If the torch doesn’t sound right, something smells funny or there is an odd taste in the air, stop what you are doing and have a look. Your senses tell you a lot more than you think.
The Fume PlumeFumes are one of the more dangerous aspects of welding. Welding produces gases and fumes that can be hazardous to your health if ingested. With all welding, cutting and metal removal processes, you should keep your head out of the fume plume and use local exhaust and ventilation or individual respiratory equipment.
Numerous chemicals in use during welding have exposure limits, including: Aluminum fume, arsenic, calcium oxide, cobalt, copper fume, lead, phosphorous, zinc oxide and many more.
Nausea, headaches, dizziness and skin irritation are some of the minor effects, while major exposure can lead to nervous system disorders, impaired speech, various types of cancer and asphyxiation.
Ventilation is an essential safety concern for those involved in welding. Adequate mechanical, portable ventilation and personal respiratory protection is imperative. Hygiene is essential. Those who have been welding should wash their hands and face before eating, drinking or smoking and before leaving work for the day.
Radiation ConcernsAlmost all welding processes produce radiation of some sort. Ionizing and non-ionizing are the two forms that can injure or impair welders.
Ionizing (radioactive) radiation is produced through the welding process like an electron beam. It also happens when grinding thoriated tungsten electrodes. Non-ionizing (light based) radiation is produced by almost all types of welding. Ultraviolet, visible light and infrared are the types of radiation emitted.
Much of this can be kept from harming welders by using the correct clothing, boots, gloves, helmets and eye protection. Consult welding process manuals for the correct eye filter needed for helmets and goggles.
Always wear jeans or heavy-duty pants overlapping your work boots and make sure you do not have folds or areas that can catch a hot particle and create a fire or burn you. Do not wear clothing made of, or similar to, polyester, Lycra and spandex. Use leather or flame-resistant wool or cotton. Do not use fabric softener sheets when drying welding clothing. The sheets can reduce the flame-resistant nature of the clothes.
A Clean Shop is a Happy ShopCleaning the area also is a very helpful tip. Clean the pieces you are working on. Clean the area you are working in. Clean the tools, clean the floor.
Make sure the area you are working in is as dirt- and oil-free as you can make it. You probably are working in a shop where this isn’t the simplest of tasks. But taking the time to sweep, wipe down the area you are working and simply take inventory of anything that might be combustible or flammable and moving it can save you and others from injury or worse.
If any of the combustible materials cannot be removed, cover them with non-combustible coverings like welding blankets, metal sheets or asbestos curtains.
Gas is GoodWhen gas welding, it is important to make sure you have the correct gas for the process and that the hoses, regulators and fittings are correct for the gas and pressure being used. And remember to vent cylinder valves to purge dirt and debris before you begin.
- Cylinders should always be chained, kept and used in the upright position.
- Acetylene cylinders contain acetone as a stabilizer and should never be laid down for more than 30 minutes.
- Before opening cylinder valves, release tension on the regulator adjusting screw by turning it counterclockwise until all spring pressure is released.
- Never face regulator gauges when opening cylinder valves.
- Except when the cylinder is connected to a line or hose, the cap should be kept on the cylinder at all times.
Also remember when lighting your torch to light the fuel first, using an approved striker, not a cigarette lighter. Adjust the flame to eliminate flying soot, add oxygen slowly and then adjust the flame for the operation you are performing.
To reduce the amounts of flashback and blaze outs, add an arrester to your cylinder.
Be Well GroundedElectrical safety is another important part of welding safety. Most welding processes use electricity. The welder is safe as long as he or she is using dry, non-conductive clothing and boots, is not welding in a wet area and remembers to remove jewelry.
Make sure you are using the proper ground clamp and electrode holder for your process, as well. And keep an old metal coffee can nearby to discard used electrodes. Welding cables should increase one diameter size for every 50 feet of travel. Also, never use an arc welder on a metal ladder due to the conductive material.
Remember to never modify welding equipment. Always inspect your welding leads and verify they are the proper size to handle the machine output and use proper lockout and tagout procedures while doing maintenance.
Bring a FriendYou should also consider having a welding buddy. With how much labor costs, it can be difficult to have a person just stand and watch, but where safety is concerned, this isn’t a horrible idea. Obviously, this person will need all the standard safety equipment, but a fire extinguisher isn’t a bad idea to have, as well.
The buddy’s job is to keep an eye out for people around you, hazards and the like.
Use portable screens, booths or partitions to minimize the spread of sparks.
Also, if you are welding in an elevated area, make sure to cordon off the lower levels. And, of course, no smoking in the area.
Learn Before You BurnWhen it comes to your health, you cannot be too careful. Welding health and safety experts can be consulted at the following organizations:
- OSHA (Occupational Safety and Health Administration) 800-321-6742
- AWS (American Welding Society) 800-443-9353
- ACGIH (American Conference of Governmental Industrial Hygienists) 513-742-2020
- MSHA (Mine Safety and Health Administration) 202-693-9400
- ANSI (American National Standards Institute) 212-642-4900
- NIOSH (National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health) 800-232-4636