Welding is a practice used on a lot of job sites across the country everyday. Oxy-acetylene torches are great for welding, cutting, brazing, and heating materials and make a lot of jobs easier than they normally would be without them. However, there are still too many injuries related to welding each year due to simple mistakes or just sheer ignorance. Workers should make it a habit to inspect the equipment they will be using and know the proper welding safety best practices before ever performing any welding work. We will run through some of the things workers should have in mind every time they perform a welding job so they can better prevent fires and explosions.
One of the biggest causes of welding incidents is an unsafe amount of gas pressure. If there is more than 15 pounds of acetylene pressure being used, the gas becomes unstable and will explosively decompose. Due to this, other fuels such as MAPP, propane, natural gas, and propylene are used since they can operate safely at higher temperatures. Workers need to know the correct amount of pressure relative to the gas they will be using.
Another cause of welding incidents is burn back. Burn back is when the oxygen in your cylinder gets low or empty and the gases start to reverse their flow. Since the fuel gas is at a higher pressure, it can travel up the oxygen line and mix with the gas inside the hose, cylinder, and regulator. Workers need to make sure to purge the lines or they could cause an explosion inside the hose, cylinder, and regulator. A closely related problem to this is backfire. Backfire occurs whenever there is high oxygen pressure but low fuel pressure. This is usually caused when workers hold the cutting torch to close to the work they are doing. This causes the gas to become starved and the flame will be sucked into the head of the torch. When this happens there will usually be a popping or whistling sound.
Workers also need to be aware of flashback. Flashback is when backfire occurs inside the mixing chamber. If workers don’t shut off the oxygen valve when this happens the flame burning in the head of the torch could ignite the gases in the hoses and cause flashback. When flashback happens, an explosion progresses through the torch, hoses, regulators, and into the cylinders. This could be a small problem, with just a hose bursting, or it could be devastating, with a violent explosion of the cylinders and regulator.
To prevent all of the things we just mentioned, keep in mind the following.
- Keep the pressure below 15 pounds whenever using acetylene. If you are using a different gas, know the correct pressure to keep it at.
- ALWAYS purge the hoses before ever lighting the torch.
- NEVER light the torch with a mixture of oxygen and fuel. Light the torch with ONLY the fuel gas valve open. This should all be done AFTER purging the hoses.
- Inspect the equipment beforehand to make sure that check valves are installed on both of the torch inlets and that they are operating correctly. Keep in mind that check valves can stop gas from reversing flow, but it will NOT prevent flashbacks.
- Flashbacks can only be prevented by installing flashback arrestors on both regulator outlets and torch inlets.
Always be sure to check the torch. Workers need to have the knowledge to know if the torch they are using has a flashback arrestor and check valves. When looking at the torch closely, there should be a small cylindrical valve on each inlet with the hoses screwed onto the valve. The hoses should NOT be hooked directly onto the torch. The entire point of the valves is to prevent flashbacks from happening. These valves will say what they are on the valve body, such as whether it’s a combination flashback or check valve.
Be sure to know your welding safety and what you can do to help prevent welding flashbacks, burn backs, backfires, and incorrect gas pressure!
18 Feb 2014
Whenever workers are working in a shipyard or aboard a vessel in a shipyard, a fire watch is usually designated purely for the purpose of watching out for a fire. In some places a fire watch is actually required by law whenever working on a vessel or inside a shipyard. As a worker who works in a shipyard, it is your responsibility to know these requirements. However, one of the problems with fire watches is that they can become easily bored since a majority of them simply wait around and wait for a fire to happen. This doesn’t have to be the case though. There are several things the designated fire watch can be doing to help prevent fires while they are on fire watch duty. Fire watches should treat their jobs much like a safety role. Yes, they are there primarily to combat a fire if it were to break out, but while they are waiting for this to happen, they can be taking proactive safety measures to help prevent a fire from ever breaking out.
For example, whenever there is welding or cutting taking place in the shipyard or on a ship, there are several safety precautions the fire watch can take to ensure that other workers are working under the safest possible conditions. The following checklist is a good example.
- Ensure that the ventilation in those spaces where the welding or cutting is happening is adequate enough for someone to be working in that space. If there’s little to no ventilation, workers could be affected by the smoke before a fire ever appears.
- Have a Competent Person inspect the spaces where work will be done BEFORE workers enter the space and start working. No one should enter any space before the Competent Person has made their full inspection.
- Make sure that any and all lighting is adequate enough for the workers who will be working in the space. If lighting is poor, there is a myriad of problems it could create.
- If workers will be working with foam insulation, then the fire watch should make sure that all foam is stripped back to their correct guidelines or have all the exposed edges painted with No-Char. If you don’t have No-Char, find an appropriate substitute.
- Ensure that good housekeeping is practiced. Bad housekeeping creates a number of problems including debris being strewn about, spaghetti leads, and workers who are in a bad mood because everything is a mess. Bad housekeeping has led to some of the worst accidents in the industry. Don’t risk it.
- Make sure that there is no gasoline anywhere near the welding area! There have been instances where a worker was welding, noticed a vertical skip in an enclosed space, and was sitting on a 5 gallon can of gasoline at the same time. The gas can was used earlier for the pressure washer on deck and another worker brought it down for the welder to sit on. Make sure you read the labels on everything that is handed to you! This particular incident could have resulted in disaster that could’ve blown up the entire ship just because of a dumb mistake.
A fire watch is extremely important when working in a shipyard or aboard a vessel. However, the best fire watches take the extra initiative to inspect, catch, and report any fire safety hazards BEFORE an accident occurs. Yes, it could be possible that the fire watch needs to delay or stop work in the process, but the cleanup process for even a small fire can take hours or even days to clean up. An inspection will only take a few minutes. Make the smart decision.
We already know that thousands of injuries occur in the workplace each year, and unfortunately, some of those injuries ultimately result in death. Everyday when workers walk onto the job site, or into the factory, or into the warehouse, etc. they are accepting the fact that an accident could happen at any given moment and that they could be the next victim. However, once workers have been working at their jobs long enough, they start to develop somewhat of an immunity to these threats. In other words, they become so used to the constant threat of an injury or death happening to them or their coworkers that they get used to it and start to become careless while they are working. Carelessness on the job obviously leads to unsafe work practices, but some may be surprised to learn that carelessness is actually the leading cause of incidents in the workplace. Statistically speaking, 20% of injuries result from unsafe conditions while the other 80% are caused by unsafe acts. This means that 80% of all injuries in the workplace each year are directly caused by workers who either didn’t know how to safely perform a specific task, or they simply ignored learned safe practices for one reason or another. Since it is the workers’ responsibility to learn safe practices, we are going to focus on the workers who already know what they’re doing, but are still being careless about their jobs anyways. For these particular workers, we will offer some general workplace safety tips and point out the biggest contributors to carelessness in the workplace.
No, this is not high school, but workers still experience peer pressure to get their jobs done quickly, whether it be from their coworkers or even from their managers or supervisors. There have been several accidents attributed to workers performing a job quicker than they should have. When a worker is put under pressure like this and speeds up his or her work, they naturally start to become unsafe and an accident becomes all but inevitable. The small amount of time workers will save speeding up their work pales in comparison to the consequences they will suffer should an accident occur.
Poor Work Habits
Some workers actually start to make their poor workplace practices a habit over time. They become lazy one day, but nothing happens. So they think that if it didn’t happen that time, it probably won’t happen the next time. This attitude can build over time to the point where the worker is practicing unsafe work habits everyday they walk into the workplace. Once this happens, it turns into a habit and they essentially start playing a game of Russian Roulette. They can pull the trigger a bunch of times without anything happening, but someday they won’t be so lucky and they will pay the consequences for their unsafe habits.
Sometimes workers become so overwhelmed with everything they have to do that they start to rush through their tasks to get them done quicker. Employers love driven individuals in the workplace, but there is a fine line between working quickly and effectively and working dangerously. To put it simply, workers will not complete the job if they are injured or dead, if they are healthy and alive, they will. It’s that simple.
Poor Attitude and Outlook
Sometimes workers will develop a sense of superiority after working at a job for a long time. They will start to think that the rules don’t apply to them and that they are superhuman because they have performed their tasks over and over without any type of incident. This is poisonous thinking and will assuredly result in disaster. Just because someone has worked at a job for decades without a single incident does not mean that they won’t experience a horrific accident tomorrow. Humans are human, and humans make mistakes. The worst mistake one can make, however, is having a poor attitude and a sense of superiority over the rules and other workers.
All of the things we have mentioned are very simple, however they contribute to 80% of all workplace accidents each year! Don’t underestimate the importance of being consciously aware of the proper safety procedures for each job and resist the urge to become lazy and careless on the job. There are several injured and dead workers who would support everything we have said here, don’t become one of them!