Ensuring safety and updating standards

Safety is a critical consideration for any welding project. Geoff Crittenden, CEO of Weld Australia, explains how recent events have led to new safety measures in welding.

Welding is a safe occupation when proper precautions are taken. But, if safety measures are ignored, welders and members of the general public face hazards that can be potentially dangerous, from electrocution and inhalation of fumes and airborne contaminants, right through to structural failure.

These safety issues have the potential to cause very real – and very serious – accidents and injuries, as well as fatalities.

In fact, according to Safe Work Australia, between 2003 to 2015, 142 workers died as a result of incidents related to electrical safety (an average of 11 workers each year) – almost
half of these deaths occurred in the construction industry.

Similarly, since 2012, Workplace Health and Safety Queensland (WHSQ) has been notified of 11 events pertaining to workers or bystanders welding a container when it exploded, two of which involved a fatality.

These types of incidents are not confined to Queensland. In 2018, fire authorities revealed that a massive abattoir blaze at Murray Bridge, south-east of Adelaide, was sparked by a maintenance worker who was welding a bin.

In recent times, concerns around airborne contaminants generated by the welding process have also been raised by industry, particularly following the reclassification of welding fume from Group 2B (Possibly carcinogenic to humans) to Group 1A (Carcinogenic to humans) by the International Agency for Research on Cancer (IARC).

However, it is important to note that Safe Work Australia is currently evaluating the Workplace exposure standards for airborne contaminants to ensure they are based on the highest- quality contemporary evidence and supported by a rigorous scientific approach. There are over 650 chemicals – including welding fumes – outlined in these exposure standards.

Safe Work Australia is making the draft evaluation reports for each of the 650 chemicals available for public comment for a period of four weeks. With chemicals being released alphabetically throughout 2019 and 2020, the review of welding fume exposure standards is scheduled for early 2020.

The Welding Safety Council
Given the significant gaps in the compliance framework that have serious safety implications for Australian welders, Weld Australia considers the following to be issues, in order of priority:

i. Workplace health and safety (welding fumes and electrical safety);
ii. Non-compliant welding equipment (electrical safety);
iii. Integrity of welded structures and pressure vessels.

To address these safety issues, Weld Australia has established the Welding Safety Council. This Council will provide a forum for industry and legislative safety authorities to discuss issues and work collaboratively to identify solutions.

The vision of the Welding Safety Council is to eliminate loss of life or injury attributable to welding. The mission of the Welding Safety Council is to establish and maintain the infrastructure required to identify and analyse welding risk, engage its stakeholders in formulating mitigation strategies, and use its influence to execute those strategies.

By drawing together key government stakeholders, statutory bodies and industry into a single independent body focused on eradicating welding related injury, the Australian welding industry will be taking a significant step forward in protecting both the general public and welders.

Inaugural meeting of the Welding Safety Council Chaired by Weld Australia director and Furphy Engineering managing director, Adam Furphy, the Welding Safety Council held its inaugural meeting in early September. Representatives from all state and commonwealth WorkSafe authorities were in attendance (bar WorkSafeACT and WorkSafe Tasmania, both of whom were apologies), as well as the Australian Institute of Occupational Hygienists.

During the meeting, it was agreed that an Industry Scheme for Welder Safety Training and Workplace Certification will be developed and deployed by Weld Australia in partnership with the Australian Institute of Occupational Hygienists.

This Scheme will include the delivery of workplace education and training, and individual workplace risk assessments to identify practical solutions.

The Council will also work towards securing JAS-ANZ (Joint Accreditation System of Australia and New Zealand) accreditation for the Scheme.

During the meeting, Safe Work Australia’s review of Workplace exposure standards for airborne contaminants was also discussed. The Welding Safety Council will provide recommendations related to exposure standards for welding, once the review is released for public comment.