Welding is one of the most hazardous professions out there. Even one mistake can cost you a life. Of course, this is in the worst-case scenario.
However, even if everything goes well, doing welding daily involves many hidden dangers that can be the cause of various diseases, disorders, and problems with health.
That’s why it’s always better to know all these important aspects before you get down to work. Welding aluminum is especially dangerous and has its own peculiarities.
This is the reason we’ve put this guide on how to weld aluminum safely. Hopefully, it will help you minimize the risks.
What Makes Welding Aluminum So Special?
Aluminum differs from other metals in its characteristics. That’s why welding aluminum requires different approaches and techniques to do it properly and safely. Make sure you know all the key aspects of welding aluminum before you get down to doing the job.
It will help you take all the necessary precautions and keep your working environment safe. We’ve outlined some of the most important things you need to take into account while welding aluminum.
1. The Appearance of Aluminum Remains the Same When Heated
That’s why it can be quite tricky at some point to differentiate cold aluminum from hot aluminum during the process of welding. Here’s the thing that makes everything even more complicated, in particular with aluminum. The thermal conductivity of aluminum is 5 times higher than the thermal conductivity of steel.
2. Be Aware of Electrical Shock
Like steel weldments, aluminum weldments may trigger electrical shock. However, the reasons for an electrical shock from aluminum weldments are different. Mainly that’s because a high-frequency arc, which is used as a starting option, should remain active while welding aluminum.
Obviously, it increases the risk of experiencing electrical shock sufficiently. How can you protect yourself against it?
Make sure the working environment contains proper grounding. The use of a well-insulated professional welding system can minimize the risks as well.
3. High Reflectivity of Aluminum
Radiated light may be a great issue while performing aluminum welding. Due to the high reflectivity of aluminum, light-related injuries may be quite a common thing among welders that deal with aluminum.
Don’t forget about this threat. Fortunately, you can minimize your exposure by taking appropriate measures. Use long-sleeved clothing and light-blocking curtains while welding aluminum.
4. Welding Fumes
Welding aluminum results in fumes that can be very harmful to your health. According to the norms suggested by OSHA, the concentration of fumes that appear as a result of welding aluminum should not exceed the mark of 5 mg/m3 in 8 hours of continuous work. This limit should not be validated as these fumes are very toxic and particularly dangerous.
Fumes that are a byproduct of welding aluminum may contain metallic oxides, arsenic, beryllium, fluorine, copper, and silicon. Welding aluminum may also generate other toxic gases in huge amounts.
Properly installed and used ventilation systems as well as appropriate welding respirators can help you minimize your exposure to these extremely dangerous and toxic fumes. Thus, aluminum welding triggers various safety issues that are unique to this type of welding.
However, if you take proper precautions, they may help you stay safe and sound. It’s highly recommended you protect yourself properly against the threats like explosions, fume emissions, electrical shock, light-related injuries, cleaning liquids, etc., before you start welding.
How to Weld Aluminum Safely: 5 Most Important Things to Consider
Don’t ignore these tips if you want to make sure you are going to weld aluminum safely. Read these 5 most important things carefully and follow them while welding aluminum to minimize the risks.
- Wear proper personal protective equipment. When it comes to dangers and threats, welding aluminum is particularly dangerous and requires the use of proper high-quality personal protective equipment. Make sure you have top-notch boots, gloves, outfit, and respirator that are suitable for this type of welding. Don’t forget to educate yourself properly on first aid measures and safety procedures before you start. This is super important and can even save your life in some cases.
- Take your time to prepare properly. Don’t skip preparation. This is the key to the successful welding of aluminum. Prepare your working environment and materials properly. Clean aluminum surfaces carefully before you start welding. Most importantly, if you feel you’re not sure about any aspect of aluminum welding, educate yourself properly. Study the art of welding aluminum and the peculiarities of this type of welding.
- Choose the right process for welding aluminum. Well-experienced welders know even tiny missteps can cause serious issues. That’s why it’s important to choose the right welding process for welding aluminum (MIG, TIG, or plasma). The TIG welding approach will do fine for thin aluminum surfaces. If you need to weld thicker aluminum materials, opt-in for the MIG welding approach. Plasma welding technique is extremely dangerous and challenging. It enables you to do more targeted welding.
- Use proper special welding equipment. Make sure you have suitable welding equipment for the welding process of your choice. For each type of welding process (MIG, TIG, or plasma), you’ll need suitable high-quality equipment that will enable you to do the work properly and up to par.
- Use a proper shielding gas. Here’s another peculiarity of welding aluminum. You need to use inert gases like argon (argon mixtures will also do) as a shield to protect yourself while welding aluminum. If you are dealing with aluminum sheets that are thinner than 12.5 mm, pure argon will do. If you need to weld aluminum sheets that are thicker than 12.5 mm, you’ll need to use argon mixtures. In most cases, argon is mixed with helium (25-75% concentration). Helium provides higher temperature coupling, which is required while welding thick aluminum sheets. Another key factor that you should always keep in mind while welding aluminum is the dew point of the shielding gas. If you use argon, keep in mind that its purity is 99,996%, and its dew point is -62°C. It’s always good to verify regularly the gas pipes so that you can identify condensation if it appears. Take into account that high humidity can result in faulty or porous weld seam due to the impact of hydrocarbon.
How Can Welding Aluminum Be Dangerous for Your Health?
Welding aluminum involves various safety issues and hazards for health that are unique for this type of welding due to the specific characteristics of this metal. Let’s enumerate some of the most common dangers that you should be aware of before starting a career as an aluminum welder.
Risk of Aluminum Lung or Irreversible Aluminosis
Welding aluminum generates aluminum oxide particles that are very harmful to the respiratory tracts and the lungs. As a result, welders that work with aluminum may experience such diseases as bronchitis and irreversible aluminosis (the so-called aluminum lung).
This is a big issue. In well-developed countries, aluminum lung is considered to be an occupational disease and is a subject for compensation. Keep in mind that the intensity of exposure has a bigger impact on health damages that result in aluminum lung than the duration of exposure.
Ozone Is Another Hidden Hazard for Health
Welding aluminum requires the use of inert gases. This is due to the fact that the aluminum smelt reacts with the atmosphere, which is not desirable while welding. That’s why welders use Wolfram-inert-gas or (WIG) method and Metal-inert-gas or (MIG) to weld aluminum.
On the other hand, the use of these methods (WIG and MIG) results in generating ozone, which is also a harmful substance.
It happens due to the ultraviolet rays that are reflected on aluminum surfaces and generate ozone along with welding fumes. Breathing in ozone results in chest tightness, irritation of the airways and may be the cause of serious lung damage in the long run.
Aluminum Welding May Be the Cause of Cancer
Talking about ozone, we should mention that this gas may also bring even more horrible effects that you need to be aware of. All aluminum welders face the risk of cancer due to ozone exposure. You should keep in mind that ozone is a carcinogenic and hazardous substance.
Obviously, to minimize the risks, you should always take all appropriate protective measures. A welding company should have a good ventilation system in the working environment equipped for welding aluminum. This is a must.
Another thing to take into account is choosing the welding method suitable for the working conditions.
Of course, the WIG welding method has its own cons, like the speed of welding is significantly slower, and it requires more expensive equipment.
Exposure to Aluminum Causes Brain Damage
This is not a new fact that aluminum is neurotoxic. Researchers proved this fact a long time ago. You should take into account that exposure to aluminum results in a great number of neurological disorders and diseases like Parkinson’s, autism, dementia.
On top of that, according to a study done by Keele University, a man that was continuously exposed to aluminum dust for 8 years, died because of Alzheimer’s disease.
These facts should make you think twice about the safety precautions that should be taken before starting to weld aluminum. If these precautions are ignored, the aluminum dust can get into your lungs.
From the lungs, it will get into your bloodstream system and bones. And ultimately, this highly dangerous aluminum dust will be transported into your brain. In the course of time, aluminum accumulates and results in substantial brain damage.
Can You Get Sick from Welding Aluminum?
Fumes that are a byproduct of welding aluminum may contain metallic oxides, arsenic, beryllium, fluorine, copper, and silicon. Excessive exposure to these fumes can trigger various disorders and metal fume fever. Plus, ozone may be the cause of cancer.
Is MIG Welding Aluminum Toxic?
Implementing MIG or WIG welding methods for welding aluminum results in generating ozone that can be very harmful to health.
Should You Wear a Respirator When Welding Aluminum?
Definitely! You should always wear a specially designed respirator while welding aluminum to prevent the irritation of your respiratory system.
What Are the Hazards of Welding Aluminum?
According to the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, various neurological, as well as negative respiratory effects, have been identified in welders that were exposed to aluminum welding fumes and ground aluminum. Ozone results in chest tightness, irritation of the airways and may be the cause of serious lung damage in the long run.
Does Welding Aluminum Shorten Your Life?
A beam, a metal fume fever, electrical shock, and continuous exposure to aluminum may shorten your life. That’s why it’s super important to take all the safety measures while working with aluminum.
Does Welding Aluminum Cause Alzheimer’s?
It’s proved that exposure to aluminum may result in brain damage. According to a study done by Keele University, a man that was continuously exposed to aluminum dust for 8 years, died because of Alzheimer’s disease.
Do Welders Go Blind?
Yes, it can happen if the welders don’t protect their eyes with a properly equipped welding mask. Exposure to the arc and intense ultraviolet radiation can result in eye injuries, temporary and permanent blindness (in the worst-case scenario).
Why Do Welders Drink Milk?
In fact, this is a huge misconception. Be aware of it! Never drink milk while doing the welding, as it will be full of harmful substances! According to this theory, welders would keep the milk in the mouth and split the dirty milk after they finish welding. Instead of doing this risky method, we highly recommend you always use a properly equipped respirator while welding aluminum, which will be way more effective in terms of protection.