May 1, 2008
Keep a cool head and follow these safety tips when performing hot work.
Each year, welding and cutting operations yield many of the reported accidents at aggregate mines. Potential health and safety hazards result from sparks, hot metal and radiant energy, and the fumes and gases produced during this work. Equipment may generate high voltages or use compressed gas, and thus, require special awareness and training.
To safeguard workers, pay attention to the following items.
Slag: Injuries caused by burns during welding and cutting operations result when slag, the hot metal byproduct of the processes, lands on workers. Ears are primary targets, but unprotected skin in other body areas such as between sleeves and gloves and between pants and boots can also be hurt when they come in contact with hot surfaces or hot loose metal. Slag may fly, fall, drip, or ooze as work is executed.
Intense heat: Unexpected and irregular flash or arc burns can hurt exposed skin. The harm and pain from these burns usually worsens throughout time.
Intense light: Bright flashes of ultraviolet light cannot only burn skin, but also the lens of the eye. Damage may occur instantly or gradually throughout time if protective eyewear is not worn and if it is not appropriate for the intensity of the light.
Inadequate preparation: If metal objects being welded or cut have not been properly aligned and secured before work begins, they may slip, cutting or pinching workers as they try to make adjustments as they work.
Harmful fumes: Burning metal and metal-bearing materials, especially those containing lead or cadmium, may release highly toxic chemicals into the air. Employers must check that ventilation is adequate in work areas before any welding or cutting begins. Mechanical ventilation or individual respirators will work in an area that may be in a confined space cut off from natural ventilation.
Electric shock: Any electric welder can cause electrocution if the electrode touches exposed skin while the worker is grounded. Shock can cause involuntary muscular contractions and even death.
Employers are responsible for providing a safe work environment and educating workers on safe work procedures. This means that workers must receive basic training for the job at hand and be informed of all safety and health hazards involved. Equipment must be inspected regularly to ensure that it is adequately maintained and safe to operate. Workers must be required to wear appropriate personal protective equipment, and the work area must be safe. Fire extinguishers must be handy, and the area must be properly ventilated.
Wearing the right personal protective equipment is the most important precaution for workers who are welding and cutting. Clothing should be made of heavier cloth such as wool or heavy cotton. Welder’s jackets provide excellent protection for the upper body. Sleeves should be unrolled and collars should be buttoned. Shirts should not have front pockets so that sparks cannot lodge in these areas and cause burns. Pants should not have cuffs or be turned up for same reason, and frayed clothes, which are susceptible to catching fire and burning, should not be worn. Workers should wear appropriate flame-resistant gloves, aprons, shields, or leggings, leather capes, and sleeves, as necessary. They should also use helmets with filter lenses to protect them from arc rays as well as sparks and spatter. Spectacles with side shields or goggles will protect against slag chips, grinding fragments, wire wheel bristles, and similar hazards.
Information contained in this article was provided through the MSHA-NSSGA Alliance and was written cooperatively by members of both the aggregates industry and the regulatory agency.