Welding may be a lucrative job or a rewarding hobby, but it comes with health risks. Welding involves heat, gas, smoke, as well as tiny metal particles that permeate the air that the welder breathes.
One of the most common illnesses that people exposed to welding metals experience is the “Metal Fume Fever,” which has flu-like symptoms. For instance, after inhaling the gas by-product of the welding process, some welders may experience, nausea, headache, runny nose, fever and even chills. While these symptoms usually go away in a day or two, health experts warn that prolonged unprotected exposure to these fumes, as well as the inhalation of very tiny metal particles, may lead to long-term fatal illnesses.
Respiratory issues, kidney problems, Parkinson’s disease-like symptoms, and nasal cancer are just some of the long-term effects of inhaling poisonous gas. When the particles turn into vapor, it becomes very toxic. And although it could take some time before the long-term complications may manifest, doctors say, the potential illness will soon catch-up on the people who are repeatedly exposed to these harmful substances.
Each type of metal possesses its own health risk. Here are some examples:
- Hexavalent Chromium, which is present in most stainless steel materials may cause skin irritation, and long-term exposure to it may cause lung cancer.
- Aluminum is a lung irritant.
- Copper is the leading cause of “metal fume fever” which affects the Eyes, Nose, and the Throat.
- Lead affects the kidney, nervous, and digestive systems as a result of long-term exposure to it.
- Zinc Oxide, which is usually present in galvanized and painted metal also causes “Metal Fume Fever”.
Apart from metals, the gases produced by the welding process also pose health risks to the welders. For instance, Carbon Monoxide may cause headaches and muscular weakness; Nitrogen oxide, on the other hand, which is formed in the arc may cause irritation to the eyes, nose and throat. The long-term exposure to it likewise leads to emphysema.
Aside from these possible oxygen deficiency can be encountered by the welder if he happens to work in a poorly-ventilated area. This condition could cause asphyxiation which may lead to death.
It is important that the welder is aware of all these risks that are involved in his job or hobby. If the welder is employed, Occupational Safety Standards should be followed by his employer to eradicate, if not minimize the health risks involved in welding. Personal Protective Equipment of PPEs should be made available to the worker. A working environment that complies with the government’s occupational safety standards should likewise be provided to the welders.
On the welder’s part, here are some safety suggestions that could help minimize the health risks that they face:
- Make sure to wear PPEs, and wear these properly. It is counter-productive to own PPEs and fail to wear it out of discomfort or inconvenience. PPEs also come with instructions on how to properly wear them. These instructions should be carefully studied and consequently carried out by the welder.
At present, some companies are already manufacturing special Respiratory Protective Equipment (RPE) made particularly for welders.
- Always make sure to work in a well-ventilated area. Working in a poorly-ventilated place not only increases the risk of you inhaling toxic fumes and gases. It also reduces oxygen levels in the air which can lead to asphyxiation, which in turn can cause death.
- Apply the best welding practices. Know which technique is best for welding a certain type of metal, and which techniques are as effective but safer in terms of the type and volume of emitted gases and fumes.
- Avoid working on painted metal. The additional fumes that melting paint could produce adds more danger to the already perilous substances that you are being exposed to while welding.
- Change your working position from time to time. By adjusting your position while welding you help yourself avoid inhaling these dangerous mix of gas and particles.
- Keep a clean and well-organized working area. Having an uncluttered workspace helps minimize injuries and other work-related danger.
- Improve your craft and continue attending work safety training seminars. Knowledge can protect you from more health hazards.
- Keep in touch with your Occupational Safety Department. The information you may get from them as well as the feedback they could get from you could help improve your working conditions.
- Never miss a medical check-up and if you feel any symptoms, do not hesitate to mention it to your health provider so it could be addressed immediately. By being extra-vigilant about your health, you could avoid further health complications.
- Make sure you shower and change into new clothes before heading home and interacting with other people, especially your family. Your work clothes and shoes may carry the toxic chemicals to your car, and even to your home, inadvertently putting your family and friends in danger.
When it comes to your health and safety, taking a pro-active stance could never hurt. Keeping informed about the latest protective equipment, and safety procedures do not only protect you from health hazards, it also helps you to enjoy your craft more.