Features, Weld Australia

Safety must be our number one priority

Safety must be our number one priority

There is nothing more important than safety. And yet, in 2022, 16 manufacturing industry workers died as a result of workplace injuries. Another 14,663 workers lodged serious claims as a result of workplace injuries.

Author: Geoff Crittenden, CEO, Weld Australia

Manufacturing took out the dubious honour of the third most likely industry for serious worker injuries in Australia.

Workplace health and safety can – and should – define a whole raft of actions within the manufacturing and welding industries.

Welders and their employers cannot optimise operations, improve productivity and efficiency, or alter procedures without taking health and safety into account. Safety must be the number one priority for every manufacturing industry worker, particularly welders.

Welding can and should be considered a safe occupation; when proper precautions are taken, welders have no cause to fear accident or injury. But when safety isn’t taken seriously in the workplace, welders face a range of potentially dangerous hazards that can cause burns, electric shock, and even fatality.

Within the last few months alone, Weld Australia has been made aware of various accidents and incidents that have seen welders sustain serious injuries. In some instances, the welders were hospitalised for assessment and treatment, with one requiring two skin grafts. While they recovered, this was more by luck than judgement.

Clothing must be protective

There is a common misconception in the industry that cotton clothing is appropriate and safe to wear while welding. While cotton drill is a dense, heavy fabric, it is simply not flame-resistant unless treated – it will ignite and burn.

There have been several incidents recently across Australia in which welders’ cotton drill clothing has caught fire, causing serious injuries such as second-degree burns.

Synthetic materials such as nylon and polyester are difficult to ignite, however, when heated, severe melting occurs and the material can adhere to the skin. For this reason, synthetic materials are not suitable to wear when welding. Welders need to be mindful of this when selecting undergarments.

Welders must wear outer garments that have a fire-resistant rating or use welders’ leathers. Weld Australia’s Technical Note Health and Safety in Welding outlines further details.

Exposure to welding fumes must be reduced

In recent years, the welding industry has become increasingly aware of the hazards posed by metal fume produced during the welding process. This fume, comprising of microscopic particles of hot metal and gases, poses serious risks when inhaled by welders.

Some of the known health effects caused by welding fume exposure include fever, stomach ulcers, kidney damage and damage to the nervous system. Welders can suffer from asthma, eye, nose and throat irritation, and even lung infections that can lead to pneumonia. In early 2017, the International Agency for Research on Cancer classed welding fumes as ‘Carcinogenic to Humans’.

It is vital that appropriate strategies are in place to reduce welder exposure to fumes and prevent the long-term health effects that can result from exposure.

All welders should receive training on methods to mitigate the effects of weld fume, including positioning themselves to reduce exposure and investigating less toxic alternatives where possible.

Local Exhaust Ventilation (LEV) systems and on-torch stems capture and extract welding fume at or close to the source and are a proven way of reducing exposure. All workplaces should have fit-for-purpose LEV systems installed and regularly maintained.

In addition, welders should use Powered Air Purifying Respirator (PARP) helmets to minimise their exposure to weld fume. These helmets pull contaminated air through an intake filter on a belt worn by the welder.

The air is pushed through a filter that traps contaminants, cleaning the air. The clean air is then pumped up to the welder’s face creating a positive pressure and excluding contaminated air so that they can breathe clean air while welding.

Weld Australia’s Technical Guidance Note Fume Minimisation Guidelines: Welding, Cutting, Brazing and Soldering includes all the information required to help protect workers from the hazards associated with welding fumes.

Electrical safety precautions must be taken

Electrical safety is another area which must be seriously considered when reducing risks to welders. Electricity is a vital part of welding work, but when mishandled it can result in serious injury and death.

Electric shock remains a consistently significant issue, particularly among maintenance welders and those using Manual Metal Arc Welding (MMAW).

All too often, the voltage reduction device is switched off, leading to electric shock. Why? Because, time and again, it is reported to Weld Australia that the electrodes are too difficult to start when a voltage reduction device is in use. This is simply incorrect—with the correct arc striking techniques in place, there will be minimal (if any) impact on starting the electrodes.

All welding professionals need to familiarise themselves with processes to minimise the risk of electric shock. Simple actions such as checking that equipment is dry and well maintained, installing shut down mechanisms like fuses and low voltage safety switches, and using voltage reduction devices can save lives.

Again, Weld Australia’s Technical Guidance Note Welding Electrical Safety includes further details.

Creating a safer industry

Weld Australia is working to educate companies and individuals on the risks associated with welding. We are working to offer sensible, practical and cost- effective solutions to help minimise these risks.

In 2019, Weld Australia established the Welding Safety Council to provide a forum for industry and legislative safety authorities to identify solutions to safety problems. The mission of the Council is to maintain the infrastructure required to identify and analyse welding risk and formulate and execute mitigation strategies.

The Welding Safety Council is currently addressing several areas of concern, including protective clothing, electric shock, and the dangers of welding fume, as well as handheld laser welders and the lack of standards and regulations around their use.

The Weld Australia website was recently reconfigured to enable the issue of Safety Alerts. These Alerts will draw attention to welding safety incidents, including the known causes of the incident and what steps can be taken to help prevent similar incidents occurring.

Weld Australia is developing two comprehensive online training courses designed to improve safety outcomes across the country. One course is tailored for welders, while the other is aimed at welding engineers and supervisors.

These courses cover a raft of activities across a range of welding processes, from electric arc welding and flame cutting, through to topics like welding in confined spaces, at heights, or in hot and humid conditions. These courses will be completed towards the end of this year and made freely available via the Weld Australia website.

Finally, our work on the new resources for the MEM training package will see workplace health and safety take centre stage.

In 2023, our goal is to help ensure every welder makes it home safely at the end of every day.

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