Magazine article Occupational Hazards

Welding Safety: Are You Covering the Basics?

Magazine article Occupational Hazards

Welding Safety: Are You Covering the Basics?

Article excerpt

Many welding hazards cannot be eliminated, so the need for education and attention to safely procedures is ever present.

By its nature, welding produces fumes, gives off radiation and requires electricity or gases. About the only way to do away with welding hazards is to use glue, quipped August F. "Gus" Manz, a welding safety and technology consultant. "Even then," Manz said, "you have chemical and fume hazards."

Welding hazards pose an unusual combination of safety and health risks to more than 500,000 U.S. workers in a variety of industries, according to OSHA, with the risk of fatal injury more than four per 1,000 workers in a working lifetime.

Because of ever-present hazards, there is always a need to train workers who weld, cut or braze on how to safely perform these tasks and comply with OSHA standards such as 29 CFR 1910 Subpart Q for general industry and 1926 Subpart J for construction. Both are based on American National Standards Institute's Z49.l standard, "Safety in Welding, Cutting and Allied Processes."

"Anybody who picks up a torch and strikes an arc becomes a welder," Manz said. "Without knowing the hazards, a welder can be injured. So there's a constant need for education about processes and hazards."

This lack of education often means basic welding safety practices and common sense are missing from the workplace, said Ken Brown, project research manager and employee for 45 years at Lincoln Electric, the Cleveland-based maker of welding and cutting products.

Education includes pointing out hazards that cannot be eliminated and training workers to reduce risks associated with these hazards. Several welding safety experts identified five hazards frequently encountered: fumes and gases, radiation, electrical shock, fire and explosion, and noise.

Fumes and Gases

There can be as many types of fumes and gases as there are items that can be welded. As a result, it can be hard to know if a fume or a gas is toxic to workers. Furthermore, because welding product manufacturers may not know what material their products will be used to weld, it can be difficult to advise on what types of fumes may be present, Manz said.

The National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health (NIOSH) reported in publication 88-110, "Criteria for a Recommended Standard; Welding, Brazing and Thermal Cutting," that "excesses in morbidity and mortality among welders appear to exist even when exposures have been reported to be below current OSHA PELs [permissible exposure limits] for the many individual components of welding emissions."

Because these PELs, based on 1967 guidelines, have not been updated, NIOSH recommends that exposures to all welding emissions be reduced to the lowest feasible concentrations using engineering controls and work practices.

The statement in the NIOSH report has drawn disagreement from the American Welding Society's Safety and Health Committee, said Manz, a committee member. The committee's position is that although a few emissions, such as chromium and nickel, might result in excess mortality among welders if precautions are not taken, numerous studies indicate that the problem is not widespread.

Nevertheless, overexposure to fumes can cause symptoms such as nausea, headaches, dizziness and metal fume fever. The possibility of more serious health effects exists when highly toxic materials are involved. Other overexposure effects of fumes and gases include eye and skin irritation.

The amount and composition of these fumes and gases depend on, among other things, the composition of the filler metal and base material, welding process and arc length. Paint or coatings on a metal also may be a respiratory hazard.

To avoid overexposure, have an industrial hygienist or environmental services expert check the operation and air quality of specific welding situations. This helps determine what type of fume or gas is present and what precautions should be taken. …

Search by... Author
Show... All Results Primary Sources Peer-reviewed


An unknown error has occurred. Please click the button below to reload the page. If the problem persists, please try again in a little while.