Fabricators are under continual pressure to reduce exposure to potentially harmful substances for their workers, both for health and productivity purposes. This article will help you to understand hazardous fumes in the workplace and how to manage and protect yourself from them.
It is important when you’re dealing with welding fumes to understand what they are made of and how they are created. Welding fumes are made up of a complex mixture of tiny particulates consisting of metallic oxides, silicates and fluorides. These fumes are created during the welding process when the base metal or the welding consumable, or any coatings present on the base metal heats up past its boiling point. Some of the particles that you’ll face from welding various metals include hexavalent chromium when welding stainless steel; zinc oxide when welding galvanized steel; and manganese when welding carbon steel and aluminum. The welding gases (not the particulates) only become a concern when in confined spaces because so little is emitted during the process.
If you are concerned or unsure of how much hazardous chemicals are found in your welding area we highly recommend hiring a certified industrial hygienist, or any other type of properly trained health and safety professional to survey your work area. They will be familiar with the most current regulations on workplace safety and will be able to help you with whatever you need to keep you up to Work Safe BC’s standards.
When deciding how to deal with welding fumes you should implement the following controls:
1. Substitution, which is when you replace the thing causing the excessive fumes with something else.
2. Engineering controls, which could be fume guns, fume extractors or other types of ventilation.
3. Administrative controls, which is when you change some of the workplace practices. For example you might choose to have your welder weld for half the day and the other half drive the forklift.
4. Personal protective equipment, which could be disposable masks, half-‐ masks, powered air purifying respirators (PAPR), or supplied air respirator (SAR).
Depending on your operation the controls may not be practical, or not effective enough just on their own, so you may want to consider using more than one at a time.
If you decide that you will use any sort of respiratory protection above the protection value of a dust mask you are required to have a written respirator program. For guidelines on how to do that click on the following link WorkSafeBC How to Use a Respirator Safely and Start A Respirator Program
Miller sells a PAPR system, which is the second highest in respirator protection after the SAR, and often more practical. This PAPR system comes with the Titanium 9400TM or 9400iTM. The 9400 has an external grind control, which allows you to switch to grind mode with the push of a button, whereas the 9400i has an integrated grind shield that flips up to give you a 180° field view.
The following are some of the benefits of Miller’s PAPR:
– The PAPR purifies the air up to 99.7% with its High Efficiency Particulate Air (HEPA) filters and pre-‐filters.
– The battery life is between 6-‐8 hours when on low speeds and 4-‐5 hours when on high speeds.
– It comes with two fan speeds, with the higher of the two at 10% faster than the industry standard, which is helpful when it’s hot out.
– For your protection it comes with a flashing, beeping and vibrating alarm to alert you to anything that has gone wrong with the PAPR, such as a blocked filter or pinched off hose.
– This PAPR system is considered lightweight, the whole thing weighing in at only 3lb.
– It comes with ergonomically designed straps to distribute the weight evenly, making it hardly noticeable.
– It comes with a two-‐year warranty
– It has an assigned protection factor of 25.
The pre‐filters should be cleaned after every use with a lightly soapy water mix. The HEPA filter should be changed every time you replace your outer helmet lens, or when you notice a dramatic decrease in battery life.
The following are some final tips on how to reduce your welding fumes:
– Use substitute materials such as water-‐based cleaners or high flash point solvents.
– Cover the degreaser baths or containers.
– Do not weld on surfaces that are still wet with a degreasing solvent.
– Do not weld near degreasing baths.
– Do not use chlorinated hydrocarbon degreasers.
– Have adequate ventilation in a workplace to prevent the displacement or enrichment of oxygen and to prevent the accumulation of flammable atmospheres.
Welding is a dangerous profession with many safety concerns. Welding fumes are amongst the most dangerous hazards welders face because you can’t see the danger unless it’s too late. That is why we suggest taking a look at how much welding fumes are generated in an average workday. You’ll find that if you implement any of the safety controls previously mentioned that your welding productivity will increase and it’ll save you both time and money.