A Perspective On Safety Issues In The Welding Industry
Elbert Hubbard, much before we realised, provided eloquently to the industry, an immutable truth – One machine can do the work of fifty stupid men. No machine can do the work of one extraordinary man. As we hare along the progress highway, interlocked in the tightest of embraces with technology itself, there comes a time when the curve flattens out, and after all that could not be, has been, we turn backwards to move forwards – laying any further progress in the able hands of that irreplaceable entity in even a machinating universe – man himself
Waking Up to the Welding IndustryThe Welding industry is a classic example of this, as a combination of human intervention and skilful adaptation of technology has spawned multifold progress in achieving the quicker, better weld. The economic outlook in India has been shaky for a few quarters now. With recent developments however, industry has woken to the possibility that a revival may yet be on the cards and the onus on our factors of production to perform to beat expectations has increased once again. The emphasis is on core sectors such as Steel, Construction, Oil & Gas, Automobiles step up their game. Automobiles is expected to shake of its sluggishness and propel towards a CAGR of 12 – 18  per cent, driven by a slew launches and an increasingly receptive market. Together, with it, the Components business will follow in a closely coupled slip stream. Demand for housing continues to rise and consequently Construction and Steel look healthy in the medium to long term.
All of these in turn will result in a rise in frenetic welding activity across the board as a key operation in the value streams of multiple sectors acquires greater importance. Technology driven innovation will make its mark, efficiency will require to head north, and it is in against this backdrop that we take a look at the holistic repercussions of paying more attention to Welding Safety.
Welding Safety & ProductivityAll welding smoke contains contaminants that can damage respiratory passages, lungs and the nervous system – in certain cases they can even cause cancer. The injuries are insidious. In many cases it can take months or years before they can be diagnosed. The term referred to these is “chronic exposures” meaning that they develop over a period of time and are not necessarily detected immediately. In this context, it is important, to pause for a moment, and carefully read through these pertinent facts• Welders run a 40 per cent greater risk than other professional groups of being affected by lung cancer because of their working environment. *• An unprotected arc welder risks inhaling up to half a gram of poisonous particles during an eight hour shift. That makes 100 grams in a year. Or, put another way, 2.5 kilos in 25 years! **
Needless to say, these are factors that play an important role in enabling a protected, safe environment for workers to weld in. Beyond this of course, is the productivity dimension, wherein creating that environment can increase the productivity per worker. These are being addressed across the industry at various levels and regulatory frameworks have guidelines that enable industries to offer a hazard free workplace environment to their welders.
Occupational Exposure Limit & Protection Factor – Regulations in IndiaSafety Authorities in most countries set safe working levels for welding fume which are called Occupational Exposure Limits (OELs). These are specified either as milligrams per cubic meter (mg/m3) of air for particulate pollutants, or parts per million (ppm) for hazardous gases and vapors.
The regulations in India, governed by the Factories Act 1948, specify using appropriate protection from the hazardous UV and IR Radiations emitted and the usage of appropriate respirators for exposure against welding fumes.
Each Welding Process poses different, and at times, multiple hazards to welders. Some of the key ones include:-• Stainless steel welding is almost always contaminated with particles. When welding with MIG and stick, the welding fumes often contains particles of chromium and nickel, and are dangerous when inhaled. TIG welding creates large quantities of ozone gas.• Ordinary steel is relatively less hazardous than stainless steel but can still cause serious health effects.• Surface treated material/painted surfaces release a series of dangerous pollutants exposing welders to a number of health hazards like fume fever; exposure to isocyanates is difficult to detect and causes serious health effects.• Welding in confined spaces or semi ventilated areas not only expose welders to oxygen deficiency, but also expose them to dangerous welding fumes.
Shielding Gases & Electrodes: The InterplaySome of the shielding gases, though not highly hazardous, can displace oxygen and make the area oxygen deficient. CO2 releases Carbon Monoxide and large quantity of CO in workplace is in itself a major health hazard.All of these hazards mean that the welder is constantly exposed to more than one type of risk. Many welding workplaces also have grinding, which means welders are exposed to noise as well.
An appropriate safety plan must take into consideration not just eye protection but also protection against respiratory risks, noise and any other hazards.
3M’s Engagement with the Global Welding Industry3M’s Occupational Health and Environmental Safety Division (OHES) offers solutions in the areas of respiratory protection, hearing protection, eye protection to welders. These include,
Respiratory protection: 3M offers various types respiratory protection equipment (RPE).Maintenance free respirators (MFR): are disposable respirators that have an advanced electric filter medium enabling high level of filtration. Added features like Cool-flow Valve™, adjustable head bands, spatter resistance, provide users much desired comfort while wearing respirators.
Limited re-use respirators (EFR): lasts much longer and provide users flexibility to change just the filter cartridges. High temperature resistant filters allow users to wipe off the dust/fume from filters. The innovative design of these filters help in reduction of filter clogging and hence fewer filter replacements.
Powered & supplied air respirators (PAPR, SAR): Higher levels of contamination and exposure mandate the use of powered and supplied air respirators. They provide filtered air to the welder ensuring adequate respiratory protection. Uniqueness of these systems is that they are light weight, ergonomically designed and are easy to operate. Coupled with Speedglas (see below), they provide comprehensive safety to welders.
Eye Protection3M Speedglas Auto darkening welding shield pioneered the evolution of new-age ADLs. A typical Speedglas features highly sensitive wide view ADL, allows user selectable protection level, switchover delay function, preferred sensitivity level and also boasts of innovative vents for easy exhalation of CO2.
As mentioned above, Speedglas can be integrated with a PAPR (Speedglas-Adflo) and an SAR (Speedglas- Freshair C). These combinations provide the most comprehensive protection to the welders’ eyes and respiratory system.
Studies have shown significant improvement in productivity with the usage of Speedglas. Productivity improvements of as high as 15 per cent have been observed by many users.
Speedglas usage also minimises lesser grinding time as welders do not create weld pools at every short distance, quality of weld improves, one hand is let absolute free and helps hold the tool more rigidly and thereby offering better balance. All these mean improved welding quality & productivity.
 Hearing Protection Earplugs and Earmuffs with Noise Reduction Rates (NRRs) ranging from 25dB to 35dB are available for protection against high noise levels in welding areas. For welding in confined spaces or welding in very high noisy areas, active communication can be used that enables welders to communicate with outside environment.
 The Bottom Line – A Job Weld DoneAs organisations grow, it becomes imperative, within economic and humanitarian interests to provide for the adequate safety of their personnel. There can be no argument over the axiom that in the end, the man maketh the machine. Each morning, as a welder walks into a weld shop, if we can provide him with the reinforcement that his safety and health is in safe hands, there can be no better reassurance for someone who puts his life on the line each day. As technology advances and open markets bring down borders, the diffusion of science and knowledge across the board evens out the playing field to a point where the only key differentiator for an organisation remains its people. And therefore, as a direct consequence, their protection, becomes a need, for any organisation ergo, to lead.
* US Dept of Health & Human Services (NIOSH) Pub. No.  88-110 p iii.** Under normal working conditions the respiratory rate is about 20 litres of air/minute. Over a working year (100 per cent) a welder breathes in about 2 300 m3 air. In poor working conditions the air can contain 10 times higher levels than the maximum exposure limit for welding fume, the daily amount breathed in would be 100 grams of particles/ year or 2,5 kilos in 25 years.

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