It is easy to protect welders from the risk of cancer by reducing the fumes produced during welding. Fabricators need to provide a safe working environment for all welding professionals – it is also a way to stay compliant with safety regulations at the workplace.
By reducing the fumes produced and protecting workers, manufacturers can significantly enhance the productivity of their welders and, consequently, their bottom line, reduce their carbon footprint, and protect workers from cancer.
There are a few factors that fabricators should consider when choosing a fume management solution:
- The welding process
- Type of filler metal and consumables
- Condition of the materials used
Before fume management solutions are implemented, the whole welding process needs a review. Different welding processes and different filler materials produce different levels of fumes. As you implement a fume management solution, understand OSHA’s Hierarchy of Controls. The hierarchy outlines all steps that manufacturers should take to enhance safety at the workplace. For instance, you need to start by sampling the air in the welding environment to identify the concentration of contaminants in the air.
The Welding Process and the Materials
The fumes produced during the upstream process are dependent on the parts and types of materials used, as well as the condition of those parts. To keep the fumes produced low, you need to source clean materials and clean parts before the welding process.
By changing consumables and filler metal, you can reduce the amount and type of fumes produced. For starters, switch from stick welding to MIG. You can also move from self-shielding wire to solid wire, as this reduces fume generation. You can improve the weld when you cut the spatter and stabilize the weld puddle. Higher-end processes with advanced puddle control and stability also reduce fume generation.
Filler metal products with a low content of manganese produce fewer manganese fumes. When these materials are combined with advanced pulsed MIG welding, they result in 60 percent fewer fumes. However, modifications to the welding processes and materials might require recertification. Changing all aspects of the welding process, including melting, will enhance the quality of the weld and reduce the fumes produced.
Besides process modifications, process enclosure, ventilation, and general physical change in the workspace will reduce fume and the risk of cancer to the welders.
For starters, check the ventilation of the welding workspace to ensure that enough air is moved in and out of the room to dilute the weld fumes. Proper ventilation should be accompanied by proper personal protective equipment.
Process enclosure is another great way of reducing exposure to fumes. Here, an enclosure is used to create a barrier between the welder and the process. Even then, the welder needs to wear protective equipment during the process as some fumes might still escape during the process.
Source capture is the best option in all engineering controls. This involves capturing the fumes at the controls before they reach the worker. Options in source capture include fume extraction MIG guns and hoods and arms.
Work practice controls involve limiting or preventing an operator’s exposure to weld fumes through modification of the operator’s behavior or the work environment.
Such controls include proper operator training and ergonomic body positioning. For instance, a welder needs to keep their head out of the weld plume by positioning their body to take advantage of airflows. The welder also needs to choose helmets that offer a large and clear view of the weld puddle as this allows you to keep your head out of the welding plume.
Even when engineering and administrative controls are implemented, welders still need to stay protected from the fumes. Respiratory protection equipment such as masks, powered air-purifying respirators, supplied-air respirators, and many others will help you inhale fewer fumes. Additional steps include medical evaluations, fit tests, filter replacements, and training.
Implementing a single welding practice is not enough to protect welders from fumes that might cause cancer. Manufacturers need to evaluate various products and collect feedback during the process to choose the right fume management solution. Again, proper training of welders is key in keeping them safe from hazardous fumes. Start by reducing OSHA’s Hierarchy of Controls to ensure your fabrication business is compliant with regulations.