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Welding and Thermal Cutting

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This article is a revision of the 3rd edition of the Encyclopaedia of Occupational Health and Safety article “Welding and thermal cutting” by G.S. Lyndon.

Process Overview

Welding is a generic term referring to the union of pieces of metal at joint faces rendered plastic or liquid by heat or pressure, or both. The three common direct sources of heat are:

  1. flame produced by the combustion of fuel gas with air or oxygen
  2. electrical arc, struck between an electrode and a workpiece or between two electrodes
  3. electrical resistance offered to passage of current between two or more workpieces.


Other sources of heat for welding are discussed below (see table 1).

Table 1. Process materials inputs and pollution outputs for lead smelting and refining


Material input

Air emissions

Process wastes

Other wastes

Lead sintering

Lead ore, iron, silica, limestone flux, coke, soda, ash, pyrite, zinc, caustic, baghouse dust

Sulphur dioxide, particulate matter contain-ing cadmium and lead


Lead smelting

Lead sinter, coke

Sulphur dioxide, particulate matter contain-ing cadmium and lead

Plant washdown wastewater, slag granulation water

Slag containing impurities such as zinc, iron, silica and lime, surface impoundment solids

Lead drossing

Lead bullion, soda ash, sulphur, baghouse dust, coke


Slag containing such impurities as copper, surface impoundment solids

Lead refining

Lead drossing bullion



In gas welding and cutting, oxygen or air and a fuel gas are fed to a blowpipe (torch) in which they are mixed prior to combustion at the nozzle. The blowpipe is usually hand held (see figure 1). The heat melts the metal faces of the parts to be joined, causing them to flow together. A filler metal or alloy is frequently added. The alloy often has a lower melting point than the parts to be joined. In this case, the two pieces are generally not brought to fusion temperature (brazing, soldering). Chemical fluxes may be used to prevent oxidation and facilitate the joining.

Figure 1. Gas welding with a torch & rod of filter metal. The welder is protected by a leather apron, gauntlets and goggles


In arc welding, the arc is struck between an electrode and the workpieces. The electrode can be connected to either an alternating current (AC) or direct current (DC) electric supply. The temperature of this operation is about 4,000°C when the workpieces fuse together. Usually it is necessary to add molten metal to the joint either by melting the electrode itself (consumable electrode processes) or by melting a separate filler rod which is not carrying current (non-consumable electrode processes).

Most conventional arc welding is done manually by means of a covered (coated) consumable electrode in a hand-held electrode holder. Welding is also accomplished by many semi or fully automatic electric welding processes such as resistance welding or continuous electrode feed.

During the welding process, the welding area must be shielded from the atmosphere in order to prevent oxidation and contamination. There are two types of protection: flux coatings and inert gas shielding. In flux-shielded arc welding, the consumable electrode consists of a metal core surrounded by a flux coating material, which is usually a complex mixture of mineral and other components. The flux melts as welding progresses, covering the molten metal with slag and enveloping the welding area with a protective atmosphere of gases (e.g., carbon dioxide) generated by the heated flux. After welding, the slag must be removed, often by chipping.

In gas-shielded arc welding, a blanket of inert gas seals off the atmosphere and prevents oxidation and contamination during the welding process. Argon, helium, nitrogen or carbon dioxide are commonly used as the inert gases. The gas selected depends upon the nature of the materials to be welded. The two most popular types of gas-shielded arc welding are metal- and tungsten inert gas (MIG and TIG).

Resistance welding involves using the electrical resistance to the passage of a high current at low voltage through components to be welded to generate heat for melting the metal. The heat generated at the interface between the components brings them to welding temperatures.

Hazards and Their Prevention

All welding involves hazards of fire, burns, radiant heat (infrared radiation) and inhalation of metal fumes and other contaminants. Other hazards associated with specific welding processes include electrical hazards, noise, ultraviolet radiation, ozone, nitrogen dioxide, carbon monoxide, fluorides, compressed gas cylinders and explosions. See table 2 for additional detail.

Table 2. Description and hazards of welding processes

Welding Process



Gas welding and cutting


The torch melts the metal surface and filler rod, causing a joint to be formed.

Metal fumes, nitrogen dioxide, carbon monoxide, noise, burns, infrared radiation, fire, explosions


The two metal surfaces are bonded without melting the metal. The melting temperature of the filler metal is above 450 °C. Heating is done by flame heating, resistance heating and induction heating.

Metal fumes (especially cadmium), fluorides, fire, explosion, burns


Similar to brazing, except the melting temperature of the filler metal is below 450 °C. Heating is also done using a soldering iron.

Fluxes, lead fumes, burns

Metal cutting and flame gouging

In one variation, the metal is heated by a flame, and a jet of pure oxygen is directed onto the point of cutting and moved along the line to be cut. In flame gouging, a strip of surface metal is removed but the metal is not cut through.

Metal fumes, nitrogen dioxide, carbon monoxide, noise, burns, infrared radiation, fire, explosions

Gas pressure welding

The parts are heated by gas jets while under pressure, and become forged together.

Metal fumes, nitrogen dioxide, carbon monoxide, noise, burns, infrared radiation, fire, explosions

Flux-shielded arc welding

Shielded metal arc welding (SMAC); “stick” arc welding; manual metal arc welding (MMA); open arc welding

Uses a consumable electrode consisting of a metal core surrounded by a flux coating

Metal fumes, fluorides (especially with low-hydrogen electrodes), infrared and ultraviolet radiation, burns, electrical, fire; also noise, ozone, nitrogen dioxide

Submerged arc welding (SAW)

A blanket of granulated flux is deposited on the workpiece, followed by a consumable bare metal wire electrode. The arc melts the flux to produce a protective molten shield in the welding zone.

Fluorides, fire, burns, infrared radiation, electrical; also metal fumes, noise, ultraviolet radiation, ozone, and nitrogen dioxide

Gas-shielded arc welding

Metal inert gas (MIG); gas metal arc welding (GMAC)

The electrode is normally a bare consumable wire of similar composition to the weld metal and is fed continuously to the arc.

Ultraviolet radiation, metal fumes, ozone, carbon monoxide (with CO2 gas), nitrogen dioxide, fire, burns, infrared radiation, electrical, fluorides, noise

Tungsten inert gas (TIG); gas tungsten arc welding (GTAW); heliarc

The tungsten electrode is non-consumable, and filler metal is introduced as a consumable into the arc manually.

Ultraviolet radiation, metal fumes, ozone, nitrogen dioxide, fire, burns, infrared radiation, electrical, noise, fluorides, carbon monoxide

Plasma arc welding (PAW) and plasma arc  spraying; tungsten arc cutting

Similar to TIG welding, except that the arc and stream of inert gases pass through a small orifice before reaching the workpiece, creating a “plasma” of highly ionized gas which can achieve temperatures of over 33,400°C.This is also used for metallizing.

Metal fumes, ozone, nitrogen dioxide, ultraviolet and infrared radiation, noise; fire, burns, electrical, fluorides, carbon monoxide, possible x rays

Flux core arc welding (FCAW); metal active gas welding (MAG)

Uses a flux-cored consumable electrode; may have carbon dioxide shield (MAG)

Ultraviolet radiation, metal fumes, ozone, carbon monoxide (with CO2 gas), nitrogen dioxide, fire, burns, infrared radiation, electrical, fluorides, noise

Electric resistance welding

Resistance welding (spot, seam, projection or butt welding)

A high current at low voltage flows through the two components from electrodes. The heat generated at the interface between the components brings them to welding temperatures. During the passage of the current, pressure by the electrodes produces a forge weld. No flux or filler metal is used.

Ozone, noise (sometimes), machinery hazards, fire, burns, electrical, metal fumes

Electro-slag welding

Used for vertical butt welding. The workpieces are set vertically, with a gap between them, and copper plates or shoes are placed on one or both sides of the joint to form a bath. An arc is established under a flux layer between one or more continuously fed electrode wires and a metal plate. A pool of molten metal is formed, protected by molten flux or slag, which is kept molten by resistance to the current passing between the electrode and the workpieces. This resistance-generated heat melts the sides of the joint and the electrode wire, filling the joint and making a weld. As welding progresses, the molten metal and slag are retained in position by shifting the copper plates.

Burns, fire, infrared radiation, electrical, metal fumes

Flash welding

The two metal parts to be welded are connected to a low-voltage, high-current source. When the ends of the components are brought into contact, a large current flows, causing “flashing” to occur and bringing the ends of the components to welding temperatures. A forge weld is obtained by pressure.

Electrical, burns, fire, metal fumes

Other welding processes

Electron beam welding

A workpiece in an vacuum chamber is bombarded by a beam of electrons from an electron gun at high voltages. The energy of the electrons is transformed into heat upon striking the workpiece, thus melting the metal and fusing the workpiece.

X rays at high voltages, electrical, burns, metal dusts, confined spaces

Arcair cutting

An arc is struck between the end of a carbon electrode (in a manual electrode holder with its own supply of compressed air) and the workpiece. The molten metal produced is blown away by jets of compressed air.

Metal fumes, carbon monoxide, nitrogen dioxide, ozone, fire, burns, infrared radiation, electrical

Friction welding

A purely mechanical welding technique in which one component remains stationary while the other is rotated against it under pressure. Heat is generated by friction, and at forging temperature the rotation ceases. A forging pressure then effects the weld.

Heat, burns, machinery hazards

Laser welding and drilling

Laser beams can be used in industrial applications requiring exceptionally high precision, such as miniature assemblies and micro techniques in the electronics industry or spinnerets for the artificial fibre industry. The laser beam melts and joins the workpieces.

Electrical, laser radiation, ultraviolet radiation, fire, burns, metal fumes, decomposition products of workpiece coatings

Stud welding

An arc is struck between a metal stud (acting as the electrode) held in a stud welding gun and the metal plate to be joined, and raises the temperature of the ends of the components to melting point. The gun forces the stud against the plate and welds it. Shielding is provided by a ceramic ferrule surrounding the stud.

Metal fumes, infrared and ultraviolet radiation, burns, electrical, fire, noise, ozone, nitrogen dioxide

Thermite welding

A mixture of aluminium powder and a metal oxide powder (iron, copper, etc.) is ignited in a crucible, producing molten metal with the evolution of intense heat. The crucible is tapped and the molten metal flows into the cavity to be welded (which is surrounded by a sand mould). This is often used to repair castings or forgings.

Fire, explosion, infrared radiation, burns


Much welding is not done in shops where conditions can generally be controlled, but in the field in the construction or repair of large structures and machinery (e.g., frameworks of buildings, bridges and towers, ships, railroad engines and cars, heavy equipment and so on). The welder may have to carry all his or her equipment to the site, set it up and work in confined spaces or on scaffolds. Physical strain, inordinate fatigue and musculoskeletal injuries may follow being required to reach, kneel or work in other uncomfortable and awkward positions. Heat stress may result from working in warm weather and the occlusive effects of the personal protective equipment, even without the heat generated by the welding process.

Compressed gas cylinders

In high-pressure gas welding installations, oxygen and the fuel gas (acetylene, hydrogen, town gas, propane) are supplied to the torch from cylinders. The gases are stored in these cylinders at high pressure. The special fire and explosion hazards and precautions for the safe use and storage of the fuel gases are also discussed elsewhere in this Encyclopaedia. The following precautions should be observed:

  • Only pressure regulators designed for the gas in use should be fitted to cylinders. For example, an acetylene regulator should not be used with coal gas or hydrogen (although it may be used with propane).
  • Blowpipes must be kept in good order and cleaned at regular intervals. A hardwood stick or soft brass wire should be used for cleaning the tips. They should be connected to regulators with special canvas-reinforced hoses placed in such a way that they are unlikely to be damaged.
  • Oxygen and acetylene cylinders must be stored separately and only on fire-resistant premises devoid of flammable material and must be so located that they may be readily removed in case of fire. Local building and fire protection codes must be consulted.
  • The colour coding in force or recommended for identification of cylinders and accessories should be scrupulously observed. In many countries, the internationally accepted colour codes used for the transport of dangerous materials are applied in this field. The case for enforcement of uniform international standards in this respect is strengthened by safety considerations bound up with the increasing international migration of industrial workers.


Acetylene generators

In the low-pressure gas welding process, acetylene is generally produced in generators by reaction of calcium carbide and water. The gas is then piped to the welding or cutting torch into which oxygen is fed.

Stationary generating plants should be installed either in the open air or in a well-ventilated building away from the main workshops. The ventilation of the generator house should be such as to prevent the formation of an explosive or toxic atmosphere. Adequate lighting should be provided; switches, other electrical gear and electrical lamps should either be located outside the building or be explosion-proof. Smoking, flames, torches, welding plant or flammable materials must be excluded from the house or from the vicinity of an open-air generator. Many of these precautions also apply to portable generators. Portable generators should be used, cleaned and recharged only in the open air or in a well-ventilated shop, away from any flammable material.

Calcium carbide is supplied in sealed drums. The material should be stored and kept dry, on a platform raised above the floor level. Stores must be situated under cover, and if they adjoin another building the party wall must be fireproof. The storeroom should be suitably ventilated through the roof. Drums should be opened only immediately before the generator is charged. A special opener should be provided and used; a hammer and chisel should never be used to open drums. It is dangerous to leave calcium carbide drums exposed to any source of water.

Before a generator is dismantled, all calcium carbide must be removed and the plant filled with water. The water should remain in the plant for at least half an hour to ensure that every part is free from gas. The dismantling and servicing should be carried out only by the manufacturer of the equipment or by a specialist. When a generator is being recharged or cleaned, none of the old charge must be used again.

Pieces of calcium carbide wedged in the feed mechanism or adhering to parts of the plant should be carefully removed, using non-sparking tools made of bronze or another suitable non-ferrous alloy.

All concerned should be fully conversant with the manufacturer’s instructions, which should be conspicuously displayed. The following precautions should also be observed:

  • A properly designed back-pressure valve must be fitted between the generator and each blowpipe to prevent backfire or reverse flow of gas. The valve should be regularly inspected after backfire, and the water level checked daily.
  • Only blowpipes of the injector type designed for low-pressure operation should be used. For heating and cutting, town gas or hydrogen at low pressure are sometimes employed. In these cases, a non-return valve should be placed between each blowpipe and the supply main or pipeline.
  • An explosion may be caused by “flash-back”, which results from dipping the nozzle-tip into the molten metal pool, mud or paint, or from any other stoppage. Particles of slag or metal that become attached to the tip should be removed. The tip should also be cooled frequently.
  • Local building and fire codes should be consulted.


Fire and explosion prevention

In locating welding operations, consideration should be given to surrounding walls, floors, nearby objects and waste material. The following procedures should be followed:

  • All combustible material must be removed or adequately protected by sheet metal or other suitable materials; tarpaulins should never be used.
  • Wood structures should be discouraged or similarly protected. Wood floors should be avoided.
  • Precautionary measures should be taken in the case of openings or cracks in walls and floors; flammable material in adjoining rooms or on the floor below should be removed to a safe position. Local building and fire codes should be consulted.
  • Suitable fire-extinguishing apparatus should always be at hand. In the case of low-pressure plant using an acetylene generator, buckets of dry sand should also be kept available; fire extinguishers of dry powder or carbon dioxide types are satisfactory. Water must never be used.
  • Fire brigades may be necessary. A responsible person should be assigned to keep the site under observation for at least half an hour after completion of the work, in order to deal with any outbreak of fire.
  • Since explosions can occur when acetylene gas is present in air in any proportion between 2 and 80%, adequate ventilation and monitoring are required to ensure freedom from gas leaks. Only soapy water should be used to search for gas leaks.
  • Oxygen must be carefully controlled. For example, it should never be released into the air in a confined space; many metals, clothing and other materials become actively combustible in the presence of oxygen. In gas cutting, any oxygen which may not be consumed will be released into the atmosphere; gas cutting should never be undertaken in a confined space without proper ventilation arrangements.
  • Alloys rich in magnesium or other combustible metals should be kept away from welding flames or arcs.
  • Welding of containers can be extremely hazardous. If the previous contents are unknown, a vessel should always be treated as if it had contained a flammable substance. Explosions may be prevented either by removing any flammable material or by making it non-explosive and non-flammable.
  • The mixture of aluminium and iron oxide used in thermite welding is stable under normal conditions. However, in view of the ease with which aluminium powder will ignite, and the quasi-explosive nature of the reaction, appropriate precautions should be taken in handling and storage (avoidance of exposure to high heat and possible ignition sources).
  • A written hot-work permit programme is required for welding in some jurisdictions. This programme outlines the precautions and procedures to be followed during welding, cutting, burning and so on. This programme should include the specific operations conducted along with the safety precautions to be implemented. It must be plant specific and may include an internal permit system that must be completed with each individual operation.


Protection from heat and burn hazards

Burns of the eyes and exposed parts of the body may occur due to contact with hot metal and spattering of incandescent metal particles or molten metal. In arc welding, a high-frequency spark used to initiate the arc can cause small, deep burns if concentrated at a point on the skin. Intense infrared and visible radiation from a gas welding or cutting flame and incandescent metal in the weld pool can cause discomfort to the operator and persons in the vicinity of the operation. Each operation should be considered in advance, and necessary precautions designed and implemented. Goggles made specifically for gas welding and cutting should be worn to protect the eyes from heat and light radiated from the work. Protective covers over filter glass should be cleaned as required and replaced when scratched or damaged. Where molten metal or hot particles are emitted, the protective clothing being worn should deflect spatter. The type and thickness of fire-resistant clothing worn should be chosen according to the degree of hazard. In cutting and arc welding operations, leather shoe coverings or other suitable spats should be worn to prevent hot particles from falling into boots or shoes. For protecting the hands and forearms against heat, spatter, slag and so on, the leather gauntlet type of glove with canvas or leather cuffs is sufficient. Other types of protective clothing include leather aprons, jackets, sleeves, leggings and head covering. In overhead welding, a protective cape and cap are necessary. All protective clothing should be free from oil or grease, and seams should be inside, so as not to trap globules of molten metal. Clothing should not have pockets or cuffs that could trap sparks, and it should be worn so sleeves overlap gloves, leggings overlap shoes and so on. Protective clothing should be inspected for burst seams or holes through which molten metal or slag may enter. Heavy articles left hot on completion of welding should always be marked “hot” as a warning to other workers. With resistance welding, the heat produced may not be visible, and burns can result from handling of hot assemblies. Particles of hot or molten metal should not fly out of spot, seam or projection welds if conditions are correct, but non-flammable screens should be used and precautions taken. Screens also protect passers-by from eye burns. Loose parts should not be left in the throat of the machine because they are liable to be projected with some velocity.

Electrical safety

Although no-load voltages in manual arc welding are relatively low (about 80 V or less), welding currents are high, and transformer primary circuits present the usual hazards of equipment operated at power supply line voltage. The risk of electric shock should therefore not be ignored, especially in cramped spaces or in insecure positions.

Before welding commences, the grounding installation on arc welding equipment should always be checked. Cables and connections should be sound and of adequate capacity. A proper grounding clamp or bolted terminal should always be used. Where two or more welding machines are grounded to the same structure, or where other portable electric tools are also in use, grounding should be supervised by a competent person. The working position should be dry, secure and free from dangerous obstructions. A well-arranged, well-lighted, properly ventilated and tidy workplace is important. For work in confined spaces or dangerous positions, additional electrical protection (no-load, low-voltage devices) can be installed in the welding circuit, ensuring that only extremely low-voltage current is available at the electrode holder when welding is not taking place. (See discussion of confined spaces below.) Electrode holders in which the electrodes are held by a spring grip or screw thread are recommended. Discomfort due to heating can be reduced by effective heat insulation on that part of the electrode holder which is held in the hand. Jaws and connections of electrode holders should be cleaned and tightened periodically to prevent overheating. Provision should be made to accommodate the electrode holder safely when not in use by means of an insulated hook or a fully insulated holder. The cable connection should be designed so that continued flexing of the cable will not cause wear and failure of the insulation. Dragging of cables and plastic gas supply tubes (gas-shielded processes) across hot plates or welds must be avoided. The electrode lead should not come in contact with the job or any other earthed object (ground). Rubber tubes and rubber-covered cables must not be used anywhere near the high-frequency discharge, because the ozone produced will rot the rubber. Plastic tubes and polyvinyl chloride (PVC) covered cables should be used for all supplies from the transformer to the electrode holder. Vulcanized or tough rubber-sheathed cables are satisfactory on the primary side. Dirt and metallic or other conducting dust can cause a breakdown in the high-frequency discharge unit. To avoid this condition, the unit should be cleaned regularly by blowing-out with compressed air. Hearing protection should be worn when using compressed air for more than a few seconds. For electron-beam welding, the safety of the equipment used must be checked prior to each operation. To protect against electric shock, a system of interlocks must be fitted to the various cabinets. A reliable system of grounding of all units and control cabinets is necessary. For plasma welding equipment used for cutting heavy thicknesses, the voltages may be as high as 400 V and danger should be anticipated. The technique of firing the arc by a high-frequency pulse exposes the operator to the dangers of an unpleasant shock and a painful, penetrating high-frequency burn.

Ultraviolet radiation

The brilliant light emitted by an electric arc contains a high proportion of ultraviolet radiation. Even momentary exposure to bursts of arc flash, including stray flashes from other workers’ arcs, may produce a painful conjunctivitis (photo-ophthalmia) known as “arc eye” or “eye flash”. If any person is exposed to arc flash, immediate medical attention must be sought. Excessive exposure to ultraviolet radiation may also cause overheating and burning of the skin (sunburn effect). Precautions include:

  • A shield or helmet fitted with correct grade of filter should be used (see the article “Eye and face protection” elsewhere in this Encyclopaedia). For the gas-shielded arc welding processes and carbon-arc cutting, flat handshields provide insufficient protection from reflected radiation; helmets should be used. Filtered goggles or eyeglasses with sideshields should be worn under the helmet to avoid exposure when the helmet is lifted up for inspection of the work. Helmets will also provide protection from spatter and hot slag. Helmets and handshields are provided with a filter glass and a protective cover glass on the outside. This should be regularly inspected, cleaned and replaced when scratched or damaged.
  • The face, nape of the neck and other exposed parts of the body should be properly protected, especially when working close to other welders.
  • Assistants should wear suitable goggles at a minimum and other PPE as the risk requires.
  • All arc welding operations should be screened to protect other persons working nearby. Where the work is carried out at fixed benches or in welding shops, permanent screens should be erected where possible; otherwise, temporary screens should be used. All screens should be opaque, of sturdy construction and of a flame-resistant material.
  • The use of black paints for the inside of welding booths has become an accepted practice, but the paint should produce a matte finish. Adequate ambient lighting should be provided to prevent eye strain leading to headaches and accidents.
  • Welding booths and portable screens should be checked regularly to ensure that there is no damage which might result in the arc affecting persons working nearby.


Chemical hazards

Airborne contaminants from welding and flame cutting, including fumes and gases, arise from a variety of sources:

  • the metal being welded, the metal in the filler rod or constituents of various types of steel such as nickel or chromium)
  • any metallic coating on the article being welded or on the filler rod (e.g., zinc and cadmium from plating, zinc from galvanizing and copper as a thin coating on continuous mild steel filler rods)
  • any paint, grease, debris and the like on the article being welded (e.g., carbon monoxide, carbon dioxide, smoke and other irritant breakdown products)
  • flux coating on the filler rod (e.g., inorganic fluoride)
  • the action of heat or ultraviolet light on the surrounding air (e.g., nitrogen dioxide, ozone) or on chlorinated hydrocarbons (e.g., phosgene)
  • inert gas used as a shield (e.g., carbon dioxide, helium, argon).


Fumes and gases should be removed at the source by LEV. This can be provided by partial enclosure of the process or by the installation of hoods which supply sufficiently high air velocity across the weld position so as to ensure capture of the fumes.

Special attention should be paid to ventilation in the welding of non-ferrous metals and certain alloy steels, as well as to protection from the hazard of ozone, carbon monoxide and nitrogen dioxide which may be formed. Portable as well as fixed ventilation systems are readily available. In general, the exhausted air should not be recirculated. It should be recirculated only if there are not hazardous levels of ozone or other toxic gases and the exhaust air is filtered through a high-efficiency filter.

With electron-beam welding and if materials being welded are of a toxic nature (e.g., beryllium, plutonium and so on), care must be taken to protect the operator from any dust cloud when opening the chamber.

When there is a risk to health from toxic fumes (e.g., lead) and LEV is not practicable—for example, when lead-painted structures are being demolished by flame cutting—the use of respiratory protective equipment is necessary. In such circumstances, an approved, high-efficiency full-facepiece respirator or ahigh-efficiency positive pressure powered air-purified respirator (PAPR) should be worn. A high standard of maintenance of the motor and the battery is necessary, especially with the original high-efficiency positive pressure power respirator. The use of positive pressure compressed air line respirators should be encouraged where a suitable supply of breathing-quality compressed air is available. Whenever respiratory protective equipment is to be worn, the safety of the workplace should be reviewed to determine whether extra precautions are necessary, bearing in mind the restricted vision, entanglement possibilities and so on of persons wearing respiratory protective equipment.

Metal fume fever

Metal fume fever is commonly seen in workers exposed to the fumes of zinc in the galvanizing or tinning process, in brass founding, in the welding of galvanized metal and in metallizing or metal spraying, as well as from exposure to other metals such as copper, manganese and iron. It occurs in new workers and those returning to work after a weekend or holiday hiatus. It is an acute condition that occurs several hours after the initial inhalation of particles of a metal or its oxides. It starts with a bad taste in the mouth followed by dryness and irritation of the respiratory mucosa resulting in cough and occasionally dyspnoea and “tightness” of the chest. These may be accompanied by nausea and headache and, some 10 to 12 hours after the exposure, chills and fever which may be quite severe. These last several hours and are followed by sweating, sleep and often by polyuria and diarrhoea. There is no particular treatment, and recovery is usually complete in about 24 hours with no residua. It can be prevented by keeping exposure to the offending metallic fumes well within the recommended levels through the use of efficient LEV.

Confined spaces

For entry into confined spaces, there may be a risk of the atmosphere being explosive, toxic, oxygen deficient or combinations of the above. Any such confined space must be certified by a responsible person as safe for entry and for work with an arc or flame. A confined-space entry programme, including an entry permit system, may be required and is highly recommended for work that must be carried out in spaces that are typically not constructed for continuous occupancy. Examples include, but are not limited to, manholes, vaults, ship holds and the like. Ventilation of confined spaces is crucial, since gas welding not only produces airborne contaminants but also uses up oxygen. Gas-shielded arc welding processes can decrease the oxygen content of the air. (See figure 2.)

Figure 2. Welding in an enclosed space


S. F. Gilman


Noise is a hazard in several welding processes, including plasma welding, some types of resistance welding machines and gas welding. In plasma welding, the plasma jet is ejected at very high speeds, producing intense noise (up to 90 dBA), particularly in the higher frequency bands. The use of compressed air to blow off dust also creates high noise levels. To prevent hearing damage, ear plugs or muffs must be worn and a hearing conservation programme should be instituted, including audiometric (hearing capacity) examinations and employee training.

Ionizing radiation

In welding shops where welds are inspected radiographically with x-ray or gamma-ray equipment, the customary warning notices and instructions must be strictly observed. Workers must be kept at a safe distance from such equipment. Radioactive sources must be handled only with the required special tools and subject to special precautions.

Local and governmental regulations must be followed. See the chapter Radiation, ionizing elsewhere in this Encyclopaedia.

Sufficient shielding must be provided with electron-beam welding to prevent x rays from penetrating the walls and windows of the chamber. Any parts of the machine providing shields against x-ray radiation should be interlocked so that the machine cannot be energized unless they are in position. Machines should be checked at the time of installation for leaks of x-ray radiation, and regularly thereafter.

Other hazards

Resistance welding machines have at least one electrode, which moves with considerable force. If a machine is operated while a finger or hand is lying between the electrodes, severe crushing will result. Where possible, a suitable means of guarding must be devised to safeguard the operator. Cuts and lacerations can be minimized by first deburring components and by wearing protective gloves or gauntlets.

Lockout/tagout procedures should be used when machinery with electrical, mechanical or other energy sources is being maintained or repaired.

When slag is being removed from welds by chipping and so on, the eyes should be protected by goggles or other means.



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