Day to day, welding is a profession that many occupations pursue. Welding is a complex profession that requires many skills that many people don’t have. That’s why it can be difficult to find a reliable welder. Welding production workers are responsible for ensuring that all the welding work is done correctly and improve the quality of work. These are professionals who install or to create fixtures or machines. Making sure that the welding is correct and excellent is crucial for all projects.
Welding may be a lucrative job, but it comes with health hazards that your welders must familiarize with and have ways to minimize their exposure to those dangers. By so doing, they will enjoy their work more.
Welding may be a lucrative job, but when it comes to welding health and safety, welding involves heat, smoke, gas, and tiny metal particles that pervade the air that your welders breathe.
The welding fume and hot cutting processes is a varied mix of very fine particles and air-borne gases that can cause health problems if inhaled. Harmful gases present in the fume can be Nitrous Oxide (N₂O), Carbon Dioxide (CO₂), Carbon Monoxide (CO), Argon (Ar), Helium (He), and Ozone (O₃).
Top 4 occupational health hazards of welding are respiratory illnesses, vibration issues, noise related problems, and musculoskeletal disorders (MSD). Ensure your welders seize those risks and how to prevent them. The ensured health and safety is crucial in motivating and securing your workers.
1. Respiratory illnesses
Respiratory problems include pneumonia, occupational asthma, cancers, metal fume fever, irritation of throat and lungs, temporarily reduced lung function.
Pneumonia often results from welders prone to the lung infection. Whilst advanced antibiotics cure the infection, severe cases can induce dozens of welders being hospitalized each year.
Though asthma is not really caused by welding fume, welders are recommended to protect themselves and control welding fume to the lowest levels as possible.
For cancers problems, welding fume, especially stainless steel welding, is classified as potentially carcinogenic to humans.
Metal fume fever has flue like symptoms. For example, after inhaling the gas byproduct of the welding process, welders can experience headache, nausea, runny nose, fever, and even chills. Whilst those symptoms often go away in one day or two, the health experts warn that prolonged unprotected exposure to those fumes, and inhalation of very tiny metal particles, may cause long-term fatal illnesses.
Unfortunately, it is not true to drink milk before welding to prevent getting metal fume fever.
Also, gases and fine particles of welding fume can induce irritation of throat and lungs (i.e dryness of throat, tickling coughing, or tight chest). Ozone is a specific cause of this problem when Tig welding aluminum and stainless steels. Fluid on the lungs can eventuate in case of extreme exposure to ozone.
Temporarily reduced lung function can occur due to prolonged exposure to welding fume. Fortunately, the effects aren’t permanent.
Importantly, your welders are aware of those risks, and to prevent them, they should grasp tightly occupational safety standards. Personal Protective Equipment (PPEs) should be made available to them. Likewise, a working environment in compliance with the government’s occupational safety standards should be provided to the welders.
Here are some safety suggestions that can help minimize the health risks that your welders face:
• Respiratory Protective Equipment (RPE) can help address the problem of fume. It is made expressly for welders. Disposable face masks can protect short jobs. Like reusable respirators, they should be fit tested on individuals because one type of mask doesn’t fit all. The reusable respirators should be monthly inspected, and records must be kept. Meanwhile, the battery powered filtering welding helmet is more expensive. This type of equipment can be long lasting if it is well looked after, and may be a cost-effective option in the long run.
• Make sure your welders wear PPEs, and wear them properly. It will be counter-productive to put on PPE but fail to wear it comfortably or conveniently. PPEs also come with the instructions on how to wear them properly. Those instructions should be studied carefully, and carried out by the welder.
• Always ensure your welders work in a well-ventilated place. Otherwise, they will expose higher risk of inhaling harmful fumes and gases. Working in a poorly-ventilated area also lowers oxygen levels in the air, which can induce asphyxiation and cause death in turn.
• Take the best welding practices. Your welders should know which technique is the best for welding a certain type of metal, and which techniques are as effective yet safer regarding the types and volumes of the emitted gases and fumes.
• Avoid welding on painted metal. The extra fumes that melting paint can produce will add more danger to the already-perilous substances that your welders are exposed to while welding.
• Encourage your welders to change their working position from time to time. By adjusting their position whilst welding, they help themselves avoid inhaling the dangerous mix of particles and gas.
• Maintain a clean, well-organized working area to minimize injuries and work-related dangers.
• Facilitate your welders attending work safety training seminars. Knowledge can protect them from more health hazards.
• Provide medical checks-up for welders.
• Welders need shower and change into new clothes before they head home and interact with other people, especially their family. Their work clothes and shoes may carry toxic chemicals to their car, and even their home, accidentally putting their family and friends in danger.
2. Hand-arm vibration
Concerning hand-arm vibration (HAV), there are specific risks with such tasks as grinding and needle scaling that are closely related to the welding process. Its potential health effects include musculoskeletal, vascular and neural disorders that can get debilitating and often go unrecognized or unreported at early stages. The combination of cold working environments and cold weather apparel can raise the risk of the HAV syndrome, vibration white finger, tendonitis, carpal tunnel syndrome.
How to prevent
The Control of Vibration at Work Regulations 2005 by the UK Health and Safety Executive (HSE) require you to ensure all the risks are controlled and give instruction and training to welders on the risks associated and actions being taken to handle them. Those regulations include an EAV (exposure action value) and ELV (exposure limit value) based on the combination of vibration at the grip points of the equipment and the time for gripping it. For better understanding of those values, you can refer to HSE hand-arm vibration exposure calculator. To ensure that cases are caught early, a system of health surveillance has been mandatory for all workers exposed above the exposure action values.
By obeying the regulations, you will help prevent disability from HAV syndrome and vibration related Carpal Tunnel Syndrome (CTS). Some workers may develop early signs and symptoms of HAV and CTS even at low exposures though, your health surveillance should define any issues early on. Proper action will ease the problem. Whilst HAV symptoms can be averted, it can’t be cured once the damage has been done.
Some cases of HAV and all cases of vibration related CTS must be reported to HSE in line with the RIDDOR (Reporting of Injuries, Diseases and Dangerous Occurrences Regulations).
Regardless of regulations, not few workers in industry will be exposed to the vibration levels that may cause damage. Improvement of tool design and maintenance, improvement of damping and reduction of the level of time exposing to such tools will alleviate the risk. Gloves keep hands warm, and thereby will lower the amount of blanching (whitening) experience, but there is no proof that they will avert the condition.
Except for Tig welding, electric arc welding can produce harmful levels of noise. The other tasks that welders will commonly do and the work environment are also really noisy. This list gives you a nice idea of the noise levels related to different tasks in the welding process:
• Tig: over 75 dB(A)
• Manual Metal Arc (MMA): 85-95 dB(A)
• Metal Inert Gas(MIG): 95-102 dB(A)
• Plasma cutting (hand-held up to 100A, cutting up to 25mm only): 98-105 dB(A)
• Flame gouging: 95 dB(A)
• Flame cutting: up to 100 dB(A)
• Air arc gouging: 100-115 dB(A)
• Deslagging/chipping: 105 dB(A)
• Grinding: 95-105 dB(A)
How to prevent
The best way to manage this problem is to get rid of the noisy process altogether. For instance, this mayn’t always be feasible but you can buy in material cut to size by the supplier. After the hierarchy of control, the next best options are substitution, engineering controls, administrative controls like training and work scheduling, and then finally PPE (Personal Protective Equipment).
Ear plugs, ear muffs, or other hearing protection should be chosen based on the below criteria:
1. Ability to reduce noise exposure
2. Compatibility with other items of PPE – for example, welding helmets (helpful options include slim line ear muffs with the neck band rather than a head band)
4. Suitability for the activity and work environment
If PPE if offered, it is vital that your welders are given proper training to ensure they wear their protection in the correction fashion and at all required times.
4. Musculoskeletal disorder (MSD)
The manual handling implemented by welders that are regularly repeated or involve twisting and turning into the awkward postures can be especially hazardous.
Early indications of MSD include tingling, numbness, pain, restriction of joint movement, or soft tissue swelling. As shown in studies, recurring or persistent general shoulder pain is often reported by welders. Also, they experience lower extremity MSDs, strains, sprains of low back muscles, and associated low back disorders.
Some MSDs gradually develop over time due to intensive work. When the working environment requires workers to assume static or awkward body postures for a prolonged period of time, the workers may be exposed to MSDs. Also, the development of MSDs may be associated with genetic causes, gender, age and other factors. Finally, evidently, reports of MSDs may be connected with some psychosocial factors like job dissatisfaction, limited job control.
How to prevent
The Provision and Use of Work Equipment Regulations 1998 require you to consider the risks to health and safety of employees when selecting the equipment that they will use. This includes risks related manual handling. Selecting the right tool will diminish the chances of:
• Personal suffering due to musculoskeletal disorders
• Financial burden of sickness absence and higher issuance premiums
• Lowered productivity
• Restricting the earning potential of workers unable to return to the same type of work.
The management also should develop a proper process of protecting their workers – that is, providing management support, involving workers, providing training, defining problems, implementing solutions, addressing reports of injuries, evaluating progress.
Additionally, there are some hazards to health and safety that employers should also take good control. For example,
5. Optical radiation
The welding process generates a large amount of visible light, ultraviolet and infrared. Exposure to radiation from an arc can cause skin burns and eye damage. That’s why welders need wear clothing to protect their bodies and arms, no matter what weather conditions. Also, they need efficient eye protection, which is often given in the form of a protection shield. The precise selection of the shade of glass filter in those shields relies on the type of welding operation, because they vary in their light output.
Welder assistants also need eye protection and protective clothing. Passers-by should be protected to putting opaque or appropriately filtered screens around the working area.
6. Burns and mechanical hazards
Welders need qualified gloves, leather gauntlets to be preferable, safety boots or shoes, and qualified cap and overalls. Also, a leather apron may be needed. Welding creates a number of molten droplets of metal that are scattered in all directions. Essentially, the welders wear clothing that won’t burn or melt.
As a whole,
Health and safety in the welding industry have witnessed a significant improvement over the last few years though, to be fair, there is still work to be done. In most countries, there is extensive legislation that assigns responsibilities to employers to take reasonable care of health and safety at work for their workers, including the workshop environment, electrical safety, fume, noise, hand-arm vibration, MSD, optical radiation, burns and mechanical hazards, gas bottles, welding in difficult situations (ex. Outdoors, confined spaces, etc.) Above specifies of top hazards and their management can help employers with such crucial responsibilities.