The need for welding safety in the workplace is an ongoing task. While it may seem like common sense practice, the number of workplace injuries involving welding is in the hundreds of thousands per year.
The National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health (NIOSH) maintains standards for welding safety. While the most significant concern for welding safety is the high occurrence of lung cancer, the overall safety concerns fall into four major categories.
- Constant exposure to gases and
- Hazards such as burns
- Electric shock
- Explosions and fire
Understanding the Risks: Exposure to Fumes
There is currently no alternative to the process of fusing two pieces of metal, which requires lots of heat. Exposure to the contaminants created by the process can cause many life-altering health problems.
● Lung cancer
● Hodgkin’s disease
● Chronic bronchitis (with emphysema)
● Neurological disorders
Practicing general safety precautions will lessen the effects of exposure to welding fumes in the workplace.
Perform air quality inspections regularly, especially in enclosed work areas.
Maintain adequate ventilation; through the use of natural venting and installed exhaust systems, gases and fumes can be somewhat controlled.
Wear protective respirators.
Protecting your ability to continue breathing is one of the most critical welding safety tips.
Avoiding or Limiting Physical Hazards
The physical dangers in a welding workplace are too numerous to list. They include flying pieces of metal, sparks, electrical shock, and heavy things dropping on your feet. To ensure safety during any welding work, employees should have specific protective clothing
● Steel-toed, shock-resistant boots
● Leather welding gloves
● Fire retardant/leather apron
● Welding shield/eye protection
● Ear protection
Those are just the basics. All employers that incorporate welding should have specific guidelines in place for the requirement of safety gear
Eye injuries are the most common physical danger, followed closely by burns. Ensuring your safety and that of co-workers is imperative.
Electric Shock Hazards
While electric shock falls lower on the list of welding safety hazards in frequency, it can be one of the most deadly. Burns may leave scars, but electric shocks can stop your heart.
Taking the following safety precautions can limit the potential for electrocution.
● Use, understand and adhere to tag out procedures in the workplace
● Inspect all your equipment and safety gear before beginning a task
● Don’t touch the electrode holder or any metal equipment parts if wet
Because electricity, when discharged into the human body, can cause severe injury and death, these precautions should be part of your daily routine.
Explosions and Fire: Be Aware of the Dangers
The most frequent cause of workplace fires is flammable materials combusting due to extreme heat or sparks in and around the work area. The most significant preventative measure is to make sure work areas are clear of flammables before beginning a welding task.
Basic workplace safety also includes making sure that employees are aware of the location of emergency exits, fire extinguishers, and fire alarms. Welding safety should be a part of initial workplace orientation meetings before entering the work area. Specific aids to fire prevention and suppression can also be part of the welding safety program.
● Keep a Class ABC fire extinguisher near any work area where welding is taking place
● All fire extinguishers should be kept full and inspected regularly
● If extinguishers are not available, use fire hoses or sand
● Stay within the work area following all welding operations to watch for potential fire
When welding near flammable materials that cannot be moved to a distance of at least 35 feet from your work area, following additional safety protocols will keep you safer. Although this doesn’t entirely remove the threat, it does minimize it.
Use fire-resistant blankets to cover all combustible materials. Keep a fire watcher near the welding work area, with a clear view of the flammable material. Use a piece of sheet metal to keep flying sparks and shards of metal from hitting the flammable materials.
The best practice is to avoid welding near potential explosion hazards, but following a few welding safety practices can limit the possibility of igniting flammable materials.
Common Sense Should Prevail
In any workplace, common sense should prevail when practicing safety. This adage may be doubly true when it comes to welding safety.
Wear adequate and approved protective gear. Always remain aware of the surrounding area. Check and clear your work area before beginning a task. Know your escape routes in the event of an emergency. Keep your head in the moment and concentrate.
Welding safety is a constant vigil. If you want to avoid injury, illness, or even death, make it part of your daily routine
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