It is no secret that traditional manual welding is not for the faint of heart. In fact, welding can be physically demanding work. For example, it may be necessary to create welds on assemblies in tight spaces or where the equipment must be held overhead for extended periods. Welders often have to work inside structures or buildings that have no circulating air or ventilation. These issues cause some to seek out alternative career paths.
There are also dangers associated with welding that include the risk of electrical fires and toxic fume inhalation. Also, many weld processes produce sparks which can burn or catch clothes on fire. Despite the physical and safety challenges, welders fearlessly perform some of the most critical work in society: they assemble and construct metal structures that we all depend upon for transportation, housing, energy, and more.
Obviously, welders need to be protected, and there are safety standards organizations that address this subject. However, all welders should be aware of and institute best practices to lower occupational risks, especially for welding fume safety. In this article, we’ll outline a set of practices that can all but eliminate the dangers associated with welding fumes. First, though, we’ll identify which fumes can be harmful.
Which Welding Fumes Should be Avoided?
Fumes that welders may be exposed to include metallic particles from base materials, filler wire, non-consumable electrodes, shielding gas and/or components formed during the process. According to OSHA, the following list contains metals and gases that may be present in welding fumes.
Types of Welding Fumes
- Carbon Dioxide
- Carbon Monoxide
- Hydrogen Fluoride
- Nitric Oxide
- Nitrogen Dioxide
Many of the fumes listed above are commonly found in the body at very low levels. However, exposure over extended periods in close proximity to these fumes can be toxic. Therefore, welders need to institute best practices to reduce the risk of exposure.
Welding Fume Safety Best Practices
In the US, the American Welding Society (AWS) and OSHA are the primary organizations that establish and publish standards for welding safety. ANSI Z49.1 provides rules and guidelines for protecting the welder and the work area. OSHA has also established a number of detailed specifications and welding safety requirements intended to reduce workplace risk.
Certainly, industry regulations and guidelines should inform best practices for welding fume safety. However, one of the best ways to eliminate much of the danger associated with close proximity manual welding is by leveraging the inherent advantages of orbital welding that include the following for welding fume safety.
How to best mitigate welding fume risks
The ability to control the welding process at a safe distance from the weld puddle will in most cases eliminate any inhalation of toxic fumes.
Automation works hand-in-hand with remote control to ensure the weld creation process is consistent.
High resolution camera graphics typically give a far superior view of the weld that is unobstructed by the fume cloud. This enables the welder or technician to change control settings without needing to hold and maintain the position of any equipment.
By gathering and monitoring weld data and statistics, off-line equipment settings modifications can be made safely.
Also, GTAW welding, by nature of the process, produces less fumes on most applications compared to other welding processes.
As described above, an orbital welding process with remote control and graphics is significantly safer for the welder than manual welding. And the consistency of automation makes TIG welding, which generates the highest quality welds, an attractive process choice. In addition to utilizing the capabilities of orbital welding, a good practice creates ventilation from the work area that quickly disperses any fume clouds. Remember that care must be taken not to impact the shielding gas for TIG, MIG, or other processes.
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