Welding, cutting and brazing operations present a very specific set of unique hazards. Everyone working in the vicinity should have general awareness of safe work practices.
Welding, cutting, and brazing are different hot work techniques used to bond, cut, solder, or form metals at high temperatures. Specific precautions must be taken during this high-hazard work to prevent personal injury and workplace damage.
The most common welding, cutting and brazing hazards include:
- Electric Shock, when two charged metal objects are touched
- Secondary Voltage Shock, from an arc welding circuit
- Primary Voltage Shock, when contact is made with electrically ‘hot’ metal parts
- Fumes and Gases, inhalation of harmful fumes due to lack of ventilation
- Fire and Explosions, may result from the intense heat & sparks near the welding arc
- Burns, often the result of insufficient PPE
- Welder’s Flash, extreme eye discomfort, swelling or temporary blindness due to improper eye protection
OSHA General Industry Standard 1910.252(a)(2)(xiii)(C) states that Management shall Insist that cutters or welders and their supervisors are suitably trained in the safe operation of their equipment and the safe use of the process.
OSHA Construction Standard 1926.351(d) states that Employers shall instruct employees in the safe means of arc welding and cutting.
Any worker performing hot work like welding, cutting or brazing must:
- read and understand manufacturer instructions for the equipment
- be trained and authorized to handle the equipment they are using
- carefully review applicable safety data sheets before starting work
- follow the company’s internal safety procedures
Electric shock, while performing hot work, can lead to serious injury or death caused from either from the shock itself or from a fall caused by the reaction to the shock.
Important points to remember to avoid electric shock:
- Operators should be insulated properly from the work and from the ground.
- Never touch the electrode or metal parts of the electrode holder with skin or wet clothing.
- Always wear dry gloves that are in good condition.
- Only qualified technicians should attempt to service or repair welding equipment.
- Inspect the electrode holder before work. Ensure the welding cable and electrode holder insulation remain in good condition. Repair or replace damaged insulation before use.
- Remember, even when not turned on, welding equipment can still have 20 to 100 volts at the welding circuit. Even a shock of 50 volts or less can be enough to cause injury.
OSHA General Industry Standard 1910.252(b)(3) Employees exposed to the hazards created by welding, cutting, or brazing operations shall be protected by personal protective equipment in accordance with the requirements of 1910.132.
- Leather and flame-resistant treated cotton clothing is recommended in welding environments.
- Welding leathers are recommended when vertical or overhead welding is required.
- Don’t roll up sleeves or pant cuffs as sparks or hot metal can get into the folds and burn through the clothing.
- Even when wearing a helmet, always wear safety goggles with side shields or goggles to prevent sparks or debris from hitting the eyes.
- Heavy, flame-resistant gloves should always be worn when performing hot work.
- Wear ear protection if working in an area with high noise levels.
OSHA General Industry Standard 1910.252(a)(2)(ii) Suitable fire extinguishing equipment shall be maintained in a state of readiness for instant use. Such equipment may consist of pails of water, buckets of sand, hose or portable extinguishers depending upon the nature and quantity of the combustible material exposed.
OSHA Construction Standard 1926.352(d) Suitable fire extinguishing equipment shall be immediately available in the work area and shall be maintained in a state of readiness for instant use.
Firefighting equipment and protection measures must be in place for immediate use before welding, cutting or brazing tasks are performed.
- Portable fire extinguishers should be immediately available, if needed.
- A fire watch is required when there is a high risk of fire.
- Welding activities must be performed in an area that is free from flammable materials such as cardboard, paper, pallets (wood), gasoline, oil, paint, acetylene, propane or hydrogen.
- Ensure shielding is in place when materials cannot be moved.
- All employees working in a hot work area should know where the fire exits, fire fighting equipment, and fire alarms are located.
Inspect all welding equipment for damage, wear or irregularities before using. Equipment that is damaged or not working properly should be immediately removed from service.
- Ensure there are no oily substances, like grease, on valves, regulators and couplings as this presents a fire hazard.
- Hoses on units should be equipped with backflow prevention and flash back arrestors.
- Remove electrodes from the holders when not in use.
OSHA General Industry Standard 1910.252(c)(1)(iii) Maximum allowable concentration. Local exhaust or general ventilating systems shall be provided and arranged to keep the amount of toxic fumes, gases, or dusts below the maximum allowable concentration as specified in [OSHA Standard] 1910.1000…
OSHA Construction Standard 1926.353(a)(4-5) Contaminated air exhausted from a working space shall be discharged into the open air or otherwise clear of the source of intake air. All air replacing that withdrawn shall be clean and respirable.
Welding areas require adequate ventilation. In certain areas, mechanical ventilation such as a fan, exhaust system or exhaust hoods may be needed to remove potentially dangerous fumes and gases from the work area.
- Wear approved respirators, when required, unless the exposure is confirmed to be below the hazardous limits.
- Always check the ventilation equipment to ensure it is working properly and immediately report any issue if concerns exist.
If welding, cutting, brazing or soldering is a required task in your workplace, then make sure you don't skip the safety meeting! All employees who work in the area should be familiar with the unique hazards associated with welding activities and the safe work practices expected in the workplace.