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Through welding, you can take seemingly simple pieces of metal and transform them into more complex materials. Welding can produce great home products, including lawn ornaments, shelving units, fire pits, and chairs. Welding also has many industrial uses, such as building automobiles, airplanes, and spacecraft, and can provide reliability and strength such projects require.
Unfortunately, despite the benefits of welding, this field has many hazards you’ll have to navigate successfully. Some of the many harmful materials that welders encounter are fumes and gases, which can accumulate during projects. To understand this problem and minimize its impact, read through this guide to the fumes produced during the welding process.
According to OSHA, welding fumes can contain aluminum, antimony, argon, arsenic, beryllium, cadmium, carbon dioxide, carbon monoxide, chromium, cobalt, or copper.
But wait, there’s more—welding fumes can also contain helium, hydrogen fluoride, iron, lead, manganese, molybdenum, nickel, nitric oxide, nitrogen, nitrogen dioxide, ozone, phosgene, silver, tin, titanium, vanadium, or zinc.
Suffice it to say that welding fumes can carry quite a few hazardous materials. Many welding fumes are unavoidable due to the role they play in certain industry methods. For example, argon is a shielding gas, which helps welders maintain a consistently stable arc while working. You can avoid using shielding gases depending on your welding method. Still, if you ever have to TIG weld, you may have to rely on argon gas to complete the well properly.
Welding fumes can be a dangerous concoction of metals and gases, though the specific fumes you encounter will depend on the welding process you’re conducting. Factors such as the electrode and metal workpiece play the biggest roles. Although some specifics will vary, one factor that remains true throughout all welding processes is that you must protect yourself from these toxic materials.
As you can see, welding fumes can make the work environment incredibly dangerous. Thankfully, there are multiple methods welders use to prevent toxic fumes from affecting anyone nearby. Below, we’ll detail the effective methods experts use to defend themselves from harmful fumes while welding that are suitable PPE and ventilation systems. Without these tools in the workplace, the aforementioned toxic fumes and gases will build up around welders.
Welders wear a lot of PPE due to the many hazards present in the workplace. Common PPE a welder uses includes specialized helmets, safety goggles, fireproof clothes, and respirators. OSHA standard 1910.134 covers the industry regulations regarding respiratory protection in the workplace. Even if the workspace has smooth, consistent ventilation, wearing a welding-specific respirator is still crucial for preventing illness and injury.
Good ventilation and respirators don’t cancel each other out; both are integral for keeping the air breathable. Although welding fumes and gases cause harm to your eyes and nose, inhaling these materials can result in long-term health problems, which we’ll cover later in this guide.
Work environment optimization plays a major role in keeping welders safe from harmful fumes. Ensuring the workplace is safe for welding requires a close look at fire and combustion hazards. That said, fume accumulation must always be a key consideration. So, how do you optimize the work environment to prevent fume accumulation? First, you have to weld in an area with sufficient ventilation. Even if you have a great respirator, if there’s no consistent airflow in the work zone, that’s a problem. Some welders work outside, where good airflow typically isn’t an issue.
However, anyone welding indoors must ensure the area has working ventilation systems. If not, harmful gases will fill up the room throughout the weld, making the area hazardous to anyone inside. Another common practice for professionals is installing local exhaust ventilation systems. By using these ventilation systems in accordance with OSHA standards, you can maintain a safe, healthy welding environment.
Reading through all the OSHA standards is daunting but invaluable. If you don’t understand the standards relevant to welding in the workplace, you can wind up making egregious violations without even realizing it. Violating OSHA standards can earn employers hefty fines. OSHA fines can range from $5,000 to $70,000 per violation. However, the penalties for violations can go beyond fines.
If an employee dies due to a violation, the employer can face prison time for up to six months. OSHA details these penalties and more in Section 17 of the OSH Act of 1970, a guiding light for any reputable employer. That said, there’s more to following OSHA standards than avoiding fines and prison time. Following these industry guidelines will help you create a safe environment for your employees, which is a standard any business owner should strive for.
Becoming a welder is a great career and hobby choice—but it’s dangerous. According to OSHA, symptoms of acute exposure to welding fumes or gases include dizziness, nausea, and irritation to the nose, throat, and eyes. If you ever experience these symptoms while welding, stop immediately, promptly exit the work area, and find a solution to the problem. Whatever the issue with your ventilation systems is, you must fix them before welding in the designated work zone again.
Furthermore, prolonged exposure to welding fumes can yield far more dire results, such as cancer and damage to the stomach, kidneys, and nervous system. OSHA standards aren’t suggestions; they’re vital guidelines any business should know and follow—and welding is no exception.
Now that you understand the power of fumes produced during the welding process ensure you’re following the right practices for each weld. Along with the rest of your welding tools, obtain high-quality safety equipment from reliable suppliers. By buying all of your welding gear—from multi-process welding machines to auto-darkening helmets—from reliable suppliers, you can avoid lackluster supplies causing more harm than help.
Looking at all these safety hazards might seem a bit intense to newcomers, and in some ways, that’s not a bad thing; taking these dangers seriously is something all welders must do. Still, don’t let the mere existence of these issues scare you away from the industry. If you use the right materials and practices on the job, you can avoid welding fume hazards and many more industry dangers.