As welding is a complex and hazardous occupation, every welder daily complies with certain safety standards. It concerns their equipment, clothing, and, of course, the rules of occupational health and safety.
Nevertheless, some risks are still common and may harm welders regardless of their will and uniform. In particular, it involves risks from welding fumes and gases. Let’s figure them out.
Welding fumes are a combination of oxides, silicates as well as fluorides.
In short, welding fumes may occur when the electrode and welded material are ignited.
If speaking about the actual fumes exposure, there are several factors that affect their occurrence, including the type of welding application, welding rod composition, the type of filer and base metals used, the presence of coatings.
Beyond that, locations either open or confined, ventilation efficacy, as well as a welder’s experience all play a great role in an exposure. Logically to say, the area where welding is performed should be powered with proper ventilation control. Even if a welder is exposed to fumes, the ventilation may partially minimize the harm.
What about health outcomes when inhaling welding fumes? There are lots of serious consequences. For instance:
- Eyes, nose, throat irritations;
- Prolonged nausea and/or dizziness;
- Lung damage;
- Cancer, including the throat. lung, urinary tract cancers;
- Stomach ulcers;
- Kidney damage;
- Nervous system abnormalities;
- Parkinsonism, or else called manganism;
- Suffocation and asphyxiation.
All the above-mentioned health conditions usually occur in the facilities of a closed space. Some may have a short-term nature, while prolonged exposure to welding fumes may result in a great deterioration of your health.
Welding gases are gases resulting from regular welding and/or cutting applications. For instance, gases observed during shielding, decomposition of fluxes, or welding interacted with UV light and high temperatures. Some of the most common gases are Carbon Dioxide, Argon, Helium, Acetylene, Propane, Butane, among others.
Inhaling welding gases may lead to the following health outcomes:
- Metal fume fever;
- Breathing irritation;
- Lung cancer;
- Eyes, nose, throat irritation;
- Kidney, nervous system, digestive system damage;
- Mental abnormalities;
Most of the symptoms bear short-term character, though they may worsen if no medical attention is paid.
General Recommendations on Preventing Welding Fumes and Gases Risks
Let’s start with advice on reducing exposure to welding fumes. As per OSHA (Occupational Safety and Health Administration), both welders and their employees should follow the next precautions:
- An employer should obligatorily organize safety training for every welder prior to assigning them to welding applications;
- It’s a must to clean all the welding working areas from a coating that has a high risk of producing toxic fumes. It may concern such coatings as solvent residue and paint;
- Welders should be experienced and have knowledge on how to position themselves during welding applications in order to avoid inhaling fumes;
- The working facility should be powered with a potent ventilation system. If no, every welder should use natural drafts and seek fresh air after each application to recharge their breathing system;
- The welding equipment, including fume hoods, fume extractor guns, as well as vacuum nozzles, should be stored close to the plume course. It helps get rid of fume and gases;
- If applicable, an employer should stick to low fume-generating welding;
- It’s strictly forbidden to proceed with welding applications in confined areas without ventilation systems;
- Respiratory means should be available to every welder.
Besides, every facility should have safety data sheets and protocols on the spot.
Preventing inhaling welding gases:
- Welders should use water-based cleaners;
- The degreaser baths should always be covered;
- Welding should not occur on wet with degreasing solvent surfaces;
- A facility should have a potent ventilation system;
- Welding should not occur in confined areas without potent ventilation;
- An employer should not go for chlorinated hydrocarbon degreasers;
- Respiratory means should be available to every welder.
Note, respiratory means don’t substitute potent ventilation.
This is a shortlist of all the precautions. To access all the recommendations, you may use your employer’s safety data sheets or consult directly with the occupational agency in your area.
Recommendations From Our Side
We completely understand that some working facilities may lack sufficient protective means; hence, you may be easily exposed to hazards or already have certain health conditions. We would like to recommend the following:
- Ensure you undergo medical screening a few times per year. Unlike more safe occupations, welding is linked to many acquired health conditions, including parkinsonism, cancer, and poor vision;
- Seek fresh air after each welding application. The same concerns the events when you work in open spaces. You should have a minute to recharge yourself from harmful impact;
- Ensure your welding equipment still may go on. It should help you perform tasks seamlessly. If not, go for the upgrade of your guns or fume hoods;
- Buy only advanced welding helmets that are powered with the ultimate protection;
- If possible, buy respiratory masks that may protect you against hazards present in your daily welding tasks.
Finally, do not take the abnormal symptoms that occurred from welding for granted. Some of them are of a short-term nature, and you may think they will vanish as soon as you go home. The prolonged exposure to welding fumes and gases may slowly deteriorate your health, especially, breathing system.
Once you don’t feel well, immediately address this concern to your employer’s medical worker or directly to your healthcare provider. It is easier to prevent the disease than to treat it. Our team wishes you only safe welding applications!