Multiple industrial operations involve processes that pose many dangers to workers. In the course of performing their duties, industrial workers meet both immediate and non-immediate hazards. Industrial hazards can result from air poisoning, electrical shocks, moving components such as conveyor belts, as well as exposure to radiation.
Welding processes present multiple sources of hazards to workers; hence, a need to enforce mitigating measures. Apart from enforcing high safety standards as recommended by regulating organizations, workers need to understand the level of hazards they face in the course of their duties. This paper reviews safety hazards resulting from confined spaces and poisonous gases during welding processes (Asfahl et al., 2004).
Many industrial processes need workers to work in confined spaces. A confined is an enclosed area with unique characteristics (potentially hazardous), which isolate it from the wider environment (Asfahl et al., 2004). One of the characteristics that define a confined space includes a limitation to the entry and exit of a worker (Asfahl et al., 2004).
Confined spaces allow workers to do hazardous tasks requiring a unique workstation; hence, a need to limit the residence of workers there. Examples of enclosed spaces include silos, tanks and boilers (Asfahl et al., 2004). Common dangers that a worker can meet in a welding enclosed space include electric shocks, poor ventilation, poisonous gases, and carcinogenic substances.
One of the substances responsible for a hazardous environment in a permit-required workstation includes flammable gases that are more than 10% of their Lower Flammable Limit (LFL) (Asfahl et al., 2004). An environment containing substances, materials, or components that can engulf workers qualifies automatically as a permit-required enclosed area (Asfahl et al., 2004).
Liquid materials could harm/kill a worker through respiratory poisoning, by creating slippery surfaces, or by exerting great force on the body of a worker. On the other hand, solid materials can cause great harm to a worker by exerting damaging force on a person’s body, by trapping a worker, or even by crushing a worker.
Permit-required enclosed spaces present varying thresholds of immediate threats; hence, their grouping into various scales depending on the immediate threat they pose. Some of these areas contain heavy machinery objects, which can cause immediate harm to a worker.
The American Welding Society (AWS) strives to protect the safety of workers through a manual of useful rules. In their textbook presentation, Asfahl et al. explore multiple guidelines that can mitigate hazards present at engineering workstations. It is noteworthy to note that one can develop a wider understanding of safety procedures at engineering workstations by studying both recommendations.
Since Asfahl et al. focus on the wider engineering profession, their study is more detailed, but more general at the same time. Here, Asfahl et al. present safety guidelines that are general to the engineering profession, but not specific to welding.
On the other hand, the American Welding Society manual provides summarised, but specific guidelines, for ensuring the safety of workers at welding workstations (American Welding Society, 2005).
For example, although guidelines for directing the responsibility of workers, safety officers, and emergency teams are discussed, such guidelines form a general database of guidelines for different situations of application.
On the other hand, AWS guidelines apply to situations (such as emission of poisonous fumes from welding rods) that arise from welding processes. Here, one will find specific advice on areas such as the type of safety gear to wear for welding operations in.
Since AWS guidelines apply to persons who do various welding operations, the guidelines assume that a reader is already aware of several facets of his profession; hence, no need to dwell on the same (American Welding Society, 2005). Here, it is unnecessary to define aspects of a worker environment such as a permit-required workstation.
The Asfahl textbook applies to theoretical situations in a classroom setting; hence, a need to prepare a learner with a database of details required for an exhaustive understanding of work safety. As such, definitions of multiple aspects found at the workplace such as a permit-required workstation must precede an evaluation of safety guidelines.
In several ways, AWS guidelines and Asfahl’s guidelines complement each other. One will find Asfahl’s guidelines in a more summarised format at AWS.
For example, although there is no mention of a permit-required workstation in AWS guidelines, the guidelines recommend concerned safety officers to decide the need for permission to use some workstations. Generally, all the guidelines found in the AWS document match with safety guidelines presented in Asfahl’s textbook.
Welding Fumes from Nickel and Chromium
The potential danger in a confined space can originate from a poisonous atmosphere (such as hazardous gases, dust, or poor ventilation), or from a configuration that can trap; hence, injure or kill a worker. Fumes exuded during welding processes can adversely affect one’s health on exposure (American Welding Society, 2005). Welding fumes could originate from welding materials, base metal, and welding gas.
One of the most dangerous types of fumes that can result from welding includes fumes from nickel and chromium. Unfortunately, nickel and chromium fumes dominate multiple welding processes due to their presence in alloys, welding rods, stainless steel, and chromium coated metals (Workers Health and Safety, 2009). A number of factors may determine how fumes affect the health of a worker.
Here, the period of exposure and the type of welding performed form important considerations. Moreover, the type of safety gear used as well as the type of working environment determines the degree of effect. An understanding of the above factors should tell safety choices undertaken by people in danger of exposure to welding fumes.
An exposure to chromium fumes places a person in danger of cancer (especially lung cancer) as well as skin irritation. Likewise, studies show nickel fumes as potential eye irritants and carcinogenic (especially lung cancer).
In the direction of protecting workers from the dangerous nickel chromium fumes, several organizations concerned with worker’s safety propose multiple guidelines. The American Welding Society propose a number of measures (most of which focus on effective ventilation) to mitigate the effects of poisonous fumes exuded from welding processes.
Again, AWS guidelines offer a summary of useful measures for mitigating exposure to dangerous fumes. On the other hand, other sources of guidelines, such as the Workplace Health and Safety (WHS) guidelines offer detailed information on mitigating poisonous fumes at the workplace.
Here, one can find information on broad safety measures such as the greatest number of hours in a lifetime that a person can work in exposure environments. Still, measures of safety focusing on ventilation at AWS complement those from other organizations focusing on workers safety.
Persons in charge of safety at manual welding workstations need to set up a number of measures to protect the safety of workers. Establishing a low risk work environment that is well ventilated is paramount for mitigating exposure to poisonous fumes at workstations. Besides, all operations must align with basic rules of safety as recommended by recognizable safety manuals.
It is also important to educate workers on the need to take self-precautions for their own safety. Long-term measures (such as measuring the levels of carcinogenic materials in the blood) can mitigate future hazards (American Welding Society, 2005).
Multiple industrial processes rely on of tungsten rods. One of the most important components of tungsten rods is the radioactive thorium oxide (1%-2% by mass) (Workers Health and Safety, 2009). A considerable amount of thorium oxide can find its way to the atmosphere during a welding process; hence, placing a worker in danger of exposure to radioactive substances (Workers Health and Safety, 2009).
Studies show that workers exposed to normal amounts of thorium oxide during ordinary welding operations can live the all of their lives without suffering from the effects of radioactive substances (American Welding Society, 2005).
However, a person grinding a tungsten rod is at a great hazard of inhaling, or ingesting thorium particles; hence, placing such a person in great danger of exposure to dangerous radioactive substances (American Welding Society, 2005).
High airborne concentrations of thorium oxide could result from improper use of thorium electrodes (American Welding Society, 2005). The use of alternating current or poor ventilation can lead to exposure to high concentrations of radioactive thorium oxide (American Welding Society, 2005).
One of the most important measures that can mitigate the danger of exposure to thorium oxide particles is to use thorium free rods. Ensuring proper ventilation at workstations and using effective systems for capturing airborne particles can mitigate the potential of exposure to radioactive substances (Workers Health and Safety, 2009).
Workers who handle thorium electrodes, especially those who grind thorium electrodes must undergo extensive training on safety (Workers Health and Safety, 2009). Moreover, it is useful to adhere to set out safety guidelines as provided by thorium rod manufacturers, and ensure proper storage of thorium rods as well (American Welding Society, 2005).
It is also crucial for persons in charge of safety at welding workstations to design and carry out rules for guiding the actions of workers. Protection from radioactive substances should extend from welding workstations to the wider environment (American Welding Society, 2005).
Here, it is useful for workers to take measures that ensure correct disposal of ground dust and spent welding rods as proposed by various state laws (American Welding Society, 2005).
Like any other safety guidelines, safety measures on the safe use of thorium electrodes need contribution from multiple parties (Workers Health and Safety, 2009). All parties that make use of thorium electrodes must take personal responsibility to make sure that all of their activities align with safety recommendations in the AWS manual (American Welding Society, 2005).
Ensuring a safety environment for workers at confined locations requires a multi-faceted approach that integrates the contribution of several parties. Every worker must know his unique position in contributing to the overall safety of a confined workstation. However, persons in positions of authority must design, encourage, carry out and take part in activities that guarantee a safe environment for their workers.
American Welding Society. (2005). Safety and Health Worksheet New York: American Welding Society Press
Asfahl, C., Hammer, W., & Price, D. (2004). Occupational & industrial safety health management and engineering. New York: Pearson Custom Publishing
Workers Health and Safety. (2009). Welder’s guide to the hazards of welding gases and fumes. Edmonton: Workers Health and Safety Press.