Welding safety at the forefront for industry, govt and statutory bodies
Industry, government and statutory bodies across Australia are working together to ensure that appropriate strategies are in place to reduce welder exposure to fumes and prevent long-term health effects. Established by Weld Australia in early 2019, the Welding Safety Council provides a forum for industry and legislative safety authorities to discuss issues and to work collaboratively to identify solutions. By drawing together key government stakeholders, statutory bodies and industry into a single independent body focused on eradicating weld-related injury, the Australian welding industry continues to take steps to protect the general public and welders.
Recent media coverage has raised the issue of lowering the limit for exposure to welding fumes. In recent years, the welding industry has become increasingly aware of the hazards posed by metal fumes produced during the welding process. These fumes, comprising microscopic particles of hot metal and gases, pose serious risks when inhaled. In 2017, the International Agency for Research on Cancer classed welding fumes as ‘Carcinogenic to Humans’. However, when appropriate precautions are adhered to, risk of exposure can be minimised.
Geoff Crittenden, CEO of Weld Australia, said welding can and should be considered a safe occupation; when appropriate precautions are taken, welders have no cause to fear accident or injury. Crittenden added that it is vital that appropriate strategies are in place to reduce welder exposure to fumes and prevent the long-term health effects that can result from exposure.
“All welders should receive training on methods to mitigate the effects of metal fume, including positioning themselves to reduce exposure and investigating less toxic alternatives where possible. Education is the key to ensuring a safe and productive working environment for everyone. Employers need to invest in thorough and up-to-date training for all their employees to ensure that they understand the risks associated with welding, the mitigation strategies they can use, and the equipment available to prevent accident and injury,” Crittenden said.
Local Exhaust Ventilation (LEV) systems capture and extract welding fumes at the source and are a proven way to reduce exposure. All workplaces should have fit-for-purpose LEV systems installed and regularly maintained. Powered air purifying respirators (PAPR) can also help minimise the welder’s exposure to welding fumes in conformance with WHD regulations.
In collaboration with industry, Weld Australia has implemented a range of other initiatives to help improve welder safety. The organisation has also published a range of welding safety resources, which are available to the public free of charge. These included ‘Fume Minimisation Guidelines: Welding, Cutting, Brazing and Soldering’, which provides information required to protect workers from the hazards of welding fumes. Other safety resources include ‘Technical Note 7: Health and Safety in Welding’, which gives guidance on health and safety practices in welding, cutting and allied processes such as brazing and soldering, and pre- and post-weld material treatments for the prevention of injury, ill health and discomfort.
Weld Australia is also developing two online welder safety training courses. One course is tailored for welders, while the other is aimed at welding engineers and supervisors. These courses cover a range of activities, from electric arc welding and flame cutting, to topics like welding fume safety and welding in confined spaces, at heights, or in hot and humid conditions. These courses will be completed towards the end of the year and made freely available by the Weld Australia website.
“Education is the key to ensuring that anyone who welds is safe. Employers, professional welders and DIY enthusiasts alike must invest in thorough and up-to-date training to ensure an in-depth understanding of the risks associated with welding, the mitigation strategies that can be used, and the equipment available to prevent accident and injury,” Crittenden said.
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