Welding Safety and Ventilation
Whenever you are welding on the job site, or for a particular task, you are producing fumes and particles that can be hazardous to you as well as the workers around you. Reducing exposure to these particles and fumes is one of the main elements of welding safety. One of the first steps to this is implementing an effective ventilation and exhaust system to protect against the illnesses, diseases, and general discomfort that can result from exposure to these particles and toxic fumes. Welding is often an important part of many jobs that involve manufacturing or construction, so it is important to be aware of the inherent dangers and threats that come with it and know what you can do to protect yourself from these dangers.
Along with implementing an effective exhaust system that provides the adequate amount of ventilation for welding fumes and particles, you will also want to use respirators to help reduce exposure. Respirators are one of the most important pieces of Personal Protective Equipment (PPE) you can own, especially if you do not have an exhaust system in place yet. However, even if you already have an exhaust system in place, it still may not be effective enough to completely eliminate all of the dangers that welding poses. This is why you want to be wearing respiratory equipment at all times, even when there is some form of ventilation present. If you know that the fumes will be highly concentrated and lethally toxic, then you may have to use a supplied air hood type respirator.
You will also need to accurately evaluate and test the levels of toxicity of the welding fumes being produced. This will require the correct testing equipment. This is very important because, oftentimes, the toxic fumes created by welding do not have an odor or color to them, so they are virtually impossible to detect with just your nose and eyes. With this being the case, it is possible for someone to become overexposed without actually showing signs or symptoms. So make sure you test! To test the level of contaminants in the air, you will need to place air sampling pumps in the welding area as well as on the welder. The pumps will pull the air through a specially designed filter for a period of time. Eventually, the sample will be evaluated by a laboratory to identify the level of contaminants the welding is producing.
Once you’ve determined the level of contaminants polluting the air, you can now decide which type of ventilation system will be most effective at reducing this level. Oftentimes, this will depend on your location. If the job is situated out in the field, such as shipyards and outdoor construction jobs, you can attach “sucker” hoses that will pull fumes away from the welding area. You can also choose to use welding booths with local exhaust hoses for each station. This gives the welder a bit more mobility and flexibility while operating. If the job requires the welder to actually go to the work zone, then portable exhaust systems will be an option to look into. This is usually dependent the size, weight, or configuration of the work piece. If you are looking for a high velocity exhaust vacuum within an enclosure, then you may want to use a laboratory type hood for your ventilation. However, keep in mind that the welder’s hands and arms can only be in the enclosure while the welding is actually being performed.
It is absolutely imperative that ventilation and respiratory protection is understood and practiced. Welding can be a very dangerous, sometimes even deadly, job. This is why welding safety should not be taken lightly. It is not worth risking the health of yours or the workers around you just to finish a job quicker or because you were too lazy to follow best practices.