No two welding operations are alike. Each is subject to a host of variables, some internal and some external. These include the size and configuration of the materials being welded, the material type, the choice of consumable, the welding process - on-time handheld versus automatic – as well as other conditions and work practices taking place in the work environment. By the same token, welding fume and other byproducts of the welding operation will vary, so fume extraction needs to be tailored to the specific situation or application.
When it comes to fume extraction solutions, there is no one-size-fits-all. The specific circumstances and variables of your welding operation will require you to make choices. The more data and knowledge that you are armed with up front, the better the choices you will make.
Partnering with a knowledgeable industry supplier and following four simple steps could provide you with a wealth of information to help you make the right decisions about fume extraction solutions for your welding operation:
- Have a qualified professional conduct a systematic industrial hygiene assessment of worker exposures.
- Evaluate your welding processes for changes that can be considered in order to reduce fume while still achieving the desired weld.
- Evaluate your site for potential opportunities to improve fume capture and for deploying other fume control measures.
- Educate welders and implement safe work practices
Measure worker exposure
Before you can develop and implement a fume extraction system, you need to establish a baseline measurement of worker exposure. This assessment should be made by a qualified professional such as a Certified Industrial Hygienist (CIH). With this proper exposure data, you can then review the applicable exposure limits and any specific compound based regulatory requirements, consumable labeling requirements and consumable Safety Data Sheets (SDS) that apply to your welding operation. Whether the hygienist you enlist to conduct the assessment is an employee or an outside contractor, you’re likely to optimize the accuracy of the assessment by engaging your EH&S team in the process, as well as your workforce. Suggested reading and reference material is available from the American Welding Society (http://www.aws.org) or by contacting AWS at 800-854-7149. The American Industrial Hygiene Association (AIHA) also provides references for locating qualified professionals in your area.
Evaluate your welding process for changes that can be made to reduce fume
There may be alternatives to some welding processes and shielding gases that may reduce welding fume generation without compromising weld quality. Surface coatings like paint should be removed before welding or cutting whenever possible. When not feasible, a proper respirator should be selected and used. Also, the contribution of any other coatings such as corrosion inhibiting compounds to airborne exposures should be assessed prior to welding. (Consult the manufacturer’s Safety Data Sheet). For example, you may be able to switch from FCAW to GMAW-pulsed, or switch from straight CO2 to a CO2/argon/oxygen blend. Reviewing these alternate options can help identify ways to reduce the generation of welding fume and potentially lower the up-front cost of the fume extraction equipment solution you choose, because having fewer fumes generated will mean less money spent on purchasing and implementing fume extraction equipment.
With so many variables that can effect welding fume generation, a knowledgeable supplier is critical. Look for a supplier with expertise in welding consumables, welding equipment, welding processes and fume extraction solutions – and who understands how all these variables affect not only the generation and collection of fume, but also how they may affect the welding process overall. Someone with the depth of knowledge needed to assist with these decisions and equipment choices will be the best equipped to help you understand the options available so that you can make a decision that is optimal for your operations.