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- AN IMPORTANT ASPECT OF WELDING SAFETY -
The fumes produced in a welding operation can be hazardous to the welder or workers in the near vicinity. Reducing the exposure to fumes through an effective local exhaust or area ventilation system is the first line of defense in preventing discomfort or illnesses from toxic welding fumes.
Respirators are another means of reducing exposure. This personal protective equipment should be considered a temporary process until more appropriate measures to control the exposure are in place. However, when the level of the exposure cannot be entirely eliminated by an exhaust ventilation system, some form of respiratory protection will be required when welding is performed. Highly toxic or concentrated welding fumes may require the welder to use a supplied air hood-type respirator, no matter what type of ventilation is in place.
Testing equipment is needed to effectively evaluate the levels of toxicity welding fumes emit. Many toxic fumes are colorless and odorless, and chronic effects of overexposures may not be immediately detectable. Harmful levels of welding fumes cannot be determined by relying on your body's senses. You may see smoke in the air, smell an irritant and not be adversely affected. In order to accurately determine the level of the contaminants present, air quality testing equipment in the way of air sampling pumps are placed in the area and on the welder. This equipment pulls air through a filter for a specified amount of time. The sample is then evaluated at a laboratory to determine the levels of the exposure.
The degree of exposure present determines which type of ventilation system is most appropriate. In field locations, such as construction projects and shipyards, 'sucker' hoses can be set up to pull fumes from the welding zone. Welding booths with local exhaust hoses at each station gives the welder some flexibility and mobility in performing the operation. In situations where the welder must go to the work area (due to size, weight or the unwieldy configuration of the work piece), portable exhaust systems could be an option to consider. In some situations, laboratory-type hoods may be used for ventilation. This type of system creates a high velocity exhaust vacuum within an enclosure. Using Laboratory-type hoods allow only the welder's hands/arms in the enclosure while welding is being performed.
Determining the needed ventilation and/or respiratory protection must be taken very seriously. Systematically evaluate the process, exposures and possible controls to determine which will help ensure providing an employee a safe place to work.
Once protective measures have been determined, it is the responsibility of each welder and their supervisor to make sure they are being used properly. Taking a proactive step in reducing your exposure to welding fumes is the professional approach to working as a welder.
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