A weld is a necessary component of many sheet metal machinery projects, but it does come with risks due to the use of flammable gas or the high heat input of plasma. Thankfully, ACRA Machinery is here to outline the safety hazards improper welding setups and processes can pose and discuss techniques to improve worker safety in the sheet metal fabrication industry.


1. Inexperienced welders

Similarly to the operation of several sheet metal machinery, welding is a hazardous manual task. The welder should be experienced and knowledgeable in the welding technique being performed and trained in harm minimisation procedures. Improper training is a common issue within the sheet metal fabrication industry, so you should ensure that all welders strictly follow operational procedures. Supervisors should ensure that junior welders or welders who are not as familiar with a type of welding technique are never working alone.


2. Ensure the sheet metal is ready for welding

Before you weld your materials, it is important to visually inspect the surface for any potential problems. A thorough inspection of the metal beforehand and investigation of the properties of the materials and surface coating of the metal could prevent serious mistakes. Observable risks to successful and safe welds could include deep grooves, thin surfaces or if the metal is still wet.

Remember to clean metal before welding to avoid contaminants that can create resistance to the weld or cause a reaction while welding. There are many options to remove unwanted rust, paint, dust or mill scale from your sheet metal, including rubbing coarse sandpaper across the surface, sandblasting the sheet metal or using a wire brush.


3. Noise reduction

According to regulations from Safe Work Australia, welding, particularly plasma arc welding, can generate varying levels and frequencies of noise that exceed the safe exposure standard. It has been shown that surpassing the exposure standard can cause gradual hearing loss or be loud enough to cause immediate hearing loss. To effectively control the amount of noise that workers are exposed to while welding and reduce the risk of harm, it is recommended that the noise source is isolated from people by using distance and welding bays that feature sound-absorbing surfaces.

To lessen the risk, limitations should be applied to reduce how long workers can be exposed to noise over their shift. Additionally, personal hearing protection should also be provided to protect workers. For further advice on noise control, visit the Work Safe Victoria website or read their step by step approach.


4. Gases

Compressed gases are used as fuel or shielding gases for many types of welding. Precautions need to be taken to prevent gas leakage, asphyxiation or fire risks. Store and handle gas cylinders appropriately, check cylinders, including their fittings, hoses and connections, for any dents or leaks, and ensure that flashback arrestors are fitted at both ends of the oxygen and fuel gas lines.


5. Ventilation

Ventilation also prevents the risk of asphyxiation from leaking gases and welding fumes and prevents the risk of the welder overheating. Determine the risk of exposure to fumes by identifying the materials in use and the level of fumes, dust, vapour and gases generated. Common airborne contaminants from welding include nitrogen oxides formed in the weld arc, phosphine from the reaction of a rust inhibitor with welding radiation, and the lead coating on steels.

Airborne contaminants can cause many health problems such as irritation to your respiratory system, wheezing, lung damage or cancer. Consider engineering control measures by installing ventilation systems and providing respiratory protection. In the case of a dangerous, confined space, air-supplied respirators may be required.


6. Fires and explosions

Welding and grinding generate heat and sparks which pose a risk of fire and explosions. This hazard can be minimised by keeping your work area clear from any potential fuel sources and isolating flammable gases and liquids from the welding area. Firefighting equipment should also be near and easily accessible from the welding area, an evacuation plan should also be established and well-known in case of a fire.


7. Burns

Burns are one of the most common injuries of welding, with a welding arc capable of reaching 6000 °C. This can cause burns to exposed skin (similar to sunburn) or heat stress/heat stroke due to the symptoms of fatigue, lethargy and confusion going undetected by the worker. The risk of burns can be reduced by labelling hot equipment and wearing personal protective equipment and the risk of overexposure to heat can be reduced with ventilated work areas, regularly drinking water and scheduled rest breaks.


8. Electric shocks

Electric shock can occur through direct contact with the electrode or live parts, particularly when performing electric arc welding. When welding, prevent direct contact with electrodes or welding wire and ensure that the working area does not have any live components or wet surfaces. Electric shock can also be avoided by thoroughly inspecting the device before use, not leaning against the material when welding, avoiding working alone and not changing electrodes by hand while touching the workpiece.


Looking for welders and sheet metal machinery?

For safe operation, welding requires careful examination of the tool, material and environment. The experienced staff at ACRA Machinery can cater to all your sheet metal machinery needs and help you with any welding or sheet metal fabrication questions. Our passionate team also provides sheet metal machinery repairs or maintenance services to give your machines the best possible operational life.

If you would like to know more about welding or our repair services, please give us a call on 03 9794 6675 or fill out our online contact form today.