Welding is common in construction and general industry. According to OSHA, over 500,000 workers perform welding tasks every single day.
The American Society of Safety Engineers (ASSE) defines welding as “a method of joining two metal parts together through intense heat.” A heat-generating machine melts the parts and solders them together. This process can be done directly, the ASSE notes, although at times, a filler metal would be used to combine the metal parts. The process inevitably produces a plume of smoke that contains minute metal particles and toxic gasses called welding fumes.
Safety Instruction, a training website, identifies the following health hazards associated with welding:
- Fumes/ Toxic Gasses such as gasses rising from burning nickel, zinc, cadmium, copper, fluorides, manganese and chromium; carbon monoxides; oxides of ozone
- Electrical Hazards, e.g. arc flashes, electric shocks
- Radiation, which is characterized by skin redness and sometimes cause acute dermatoses (unsightly and painful skin eruptions)
- Weld splash or surface splash, which happens when the materials were heated excessively
- Noise, which can result to hearing loss
What can be done then?
The Occupational Safety and Health Administration recommends proper work practices and the use of personal protective equipment during welding operations. The agency elaborates on the following hazard solutions on its page on Welding, Brazing and Cutting.
Controlling hazardous fumes and gasses. OSHA’s fact sheet on the matter recommends proper positioning, good understanding of one’s HAZCOM program, use of PPE and proper ventilation to minimize risks associated with welding fumes. The fact sheet suggests working with the right PPE or positioning oneself away from the direction of the hazardous fumes, and working in well ventilated areas or in the presence of exhaust ventilation systems.
Eye protection/Use of personal protective equipment (PPE). Employers must establish a PPE program tailored specifically to the tasks of workers. In the case of welders, they should be provided PPEs like respirators, facial and eye masks, protective clothing, foot and hand protections in pursuance of the requirements of the standard, 1910.252. The PPEs should be provided to workers at no cost.
Arc welding safety. OSHA says that the arc welding equipment could generate heat up to 10,000 degrees Fahrenheit. According to the OSHA-recommended, University of Arizona arc welding safety guide, the arc welder should meet your state’s electrical safety requirements, OSHA requirements, and the National Electric Code. When working with an arc welder, your workspace should be well ventilated, you shouldn’t be working in a wet or damp area, and you should be wearing proper PPEs.
Addressing hexavalent chromium problems. Hexavalent chromium is produced when dyes or paints on metal (metal coating) is heated to a certain level. When inhaled, hexavalent chromium causes allergic reactions or asthma-like symptoms. Skin contact with it can also cause contact dermatitis. To minimize the risks involved with hexavalent chromium exposure, OSHA recommends workers to observe the agency’s permissible exposure limit (5 micrograms per cubic meter of air). OSHA also requires employers to test the workplace atmosphere for hexavalent chromium concentration every six months.
Occupational noise exposure. Workers should perform work based on OSHA’s permissible noise exposure limit (PEL). This PEL is based on a worker’s time weighted average for an eight-hour shift. OSHA’s PEL is 90 dBA for all workers for an eight-hour work shift.
Working in confined spaces. Permit-required confined spaces have to be ventilated. The welding equipment/gas cylinder should be kept outside the confined space and secured in place. Workers have to be trained to exit and enter confined spaces properly, and should work in these spaces rarely as much as possible. You can learn more about the standards governing working in confined space here.
ASSE emphasized on the fact that welding by itself is dangerous and has resulted to thousands of lawsuits in recent years. Exposure to welding fumes, in particular, is known to increase one’s susceptibility to cancer and Parkinson’s disease. If you want to be informed of the hazards involved with welding and how to address them, enroll in our OSHA 10 or 30 training courses.