Safety The Right Way

Establish workplace safety through proper operator PPE and an effective setup

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Welding is a highly technical and precise profession, and it is important to ensure both the operator and workspace are as safe as possible. To help prevent injury and promote compliance, key safety precautions need to be incorporated into the daily workflow and adhered to every day.

One important way to help welders complete their jobs every day without incident is to ensure they wear the right personal protective equipment (PPE) and maintain a safe welding environment. The right PPE and setup will go a long way.

The right gear

A welder needs to wear the right PPE because of the sparks, spatters and harmful UV radiation that come from doing the job. In addition to welding-specific PPE, operators should focus on quality protective clothing. This includes flame-resistant pants, long-sleeve shirts, jackets made from leather or heavy cotton, high-top leather shoes or steel-toed boots, and flame-resistant gloves. These items keep the welder protected from direct contact with hot metal or sparks. Of course, being properly outfitted doesn’t stop there. Special consideration should be given to head protection and, if needed, increased respiratory protection.

Helmets: Proper head, face and eye protection includes a welding helmet and safety glasses worn underneath to protect the face and eyes from harmful UV radiation, infrared light and any debris. Eye injuries are among the most common injuries in welding environments, and the right gear helps prevent them. Musculoskeletal injuries in the neck and back can also become an issue long-term, especially if a welding operator wears a poorly designed helmet or if he or she has poor welding posture.

Clarity in a welding helmet determines how well a welder can see their workpiece, puddle and wire.

A properly designed welding helmet offers greater protection against such issues. Helmets are now engineered with lighter materials to reduce and minimize strain as well as being optimized with the ability to swap headgear options for maximum comfort and customization. Additionally, a helmet that has a larger viewing area and a lens with auto-darkening lens technology reduces eye strain when looking at the weld joint. It also minimizes the need for “nodding” associated with putting traditional welding helmets in place by using a forward-neck motion.

Miller ClearLight 2.0 Lens Technology was designed with the goal of providing the best visibility before, during and after every weld. Compared to traditional 1/1/1/1-rated helmets, ClearLight 2.0 provides two times better visibility and increased clarity, which means this industry-leading lens technology provides a more natural and real view, eliminating the artificial blue, green or yellow tints that reduce contrast and clarity.

Continuous visibility between light and dark states eliminates the need to constantly flip the helmet up and down, mitigating eye injuries and reducing neck strain and fatigue. A helmet with this technology allows welders to see their workpiece, puddle and wire clearly for more accurate, high-quality welds while mitigating injury, which increases productivity and minimizes rework.

Respiratory protection: In the welding environment, it is important to filter weld fumes and particles from the air to increase operator safety. Operators have a few options for proper respiratory protection to use in tandem with a well-designed helmet.

A half mask typically covers the lower part of the face and uses a filter or cartridge system that purifies the air, removing particles, gases and vapors. Powered air purifying respirators (PAPRs) and supplied air respirators (SARs) are more advanced air purification systems used during the welding process. They both use a complete facepiece (e.g., hood helmet or mask) that’s connected to a unit that delivers clean air into the breathing zone.

Traditional respirators rely on an operator to draw air through the filters while PAPR systems use a battery-powered fan that pushes air through the filters and delivers clean air to the user. An SAR delivers clean air from an external source, like an air tank or compressed air system that ensures grade D or better breathing air.

The next-generation Miller PAPR II system provides comfortable, convenient and cost-effective solutions for respiratory protection, ideal for a variety of welding, metal grinding and finishing applications as well as demanding industrial environments requiring hard hat use. The PAPR II merges comfort with safety for effective respiratory protections. It offers a lighter and lower profile blower and features upgraded adjustable shoulder straps to evenly distribute the system’s weight across the shoulders and back. This helps prevent muscle strain, lower back pain and overall general discomfort. The system’s blower and battery are on average 21 percent lighter than other systems currently on the market.

The right PPE helps welders stay safe, comfortable and compliant.

Another key benefit of the PAPR II system is its longer battery life and impressive weight reduction. Other PAPR batteries are on average 65 percent heavier and have six fewer hours of battery life. Miller PAPR II solutions provide up to 20 hours of battery life, and unlike competitive PAPRs, these systems come with a spare replacement battery, which eliminates downtime since one can be charging while the other is in use.

The right setup

Focusing on the shop setup will also maximize on both safety and efficiency. A simple yet effective step is to keep the work area free of clutter – especially unused cables and hoses that could become trip hazards – while still ensuring that any required tools and equipment are easy to find. Another option for keeping a tidy workspace is to install boom-mounted wire feeders. These organize a welder’s area by removing cables from the floor and placing them on an overhead boom for better cable management and safety.

Additionally, equipment checks should be conducted at regular intervals to help ensure that everything is in good working order before using it. This includes an overall assessment of the equipment’s setup to affirm that it’s installed properly and monitoring hoses for any leaks, excessive wear and loose connections.

Fume extractors: For any welding environment, it’s critical to understand the degree to which exposure to airborne contaminants is putting operators and the facility at risk. Airborne contaminants can include dust and fibers, fumes, mists, gases or vapors, with each one having its own range of exposure levels not to be exceeded. Increasing ventilation and implementing fume controls can help create a cleaner, more comfortable work environment and improve compliance with workplace regulations.

Welding fume extractors typically consist of an arm, hood or nozzle placed near the welding area to capture the fumes as they’re produced. The fumes move through a filtration system specifically designed to remove particulates. All Miller Filtair fume extractors draw weld fumes away from the operator’s breathing zone and are designed specifically for unique welding environments. These systems are available in portable, stationary and centralized options to accommodate a range of applications.

Bernard Clean Air Fume Extraction MIG Guns capture fumes directly at the source and are ideal for large weldments and confined space welding applications.

One option is the Filtair SWX series. It’s a wall- or column-mounted fume extraction system that utilizes ZoneFlow technology to create a much larger capture area than traditional source-capture products. ZoneFlow technology offers up to five feet of fume extraction versus the conventional 18 in. This increase dramatically reduces the amount of interaction a welder has with an arm. Additionally, the FilTek XL filter technology is specifically designed for welding fumes and has a MERV filter rating of 15. This advanced technology filters up to 95 percent of weld fume particulate for optimal operator comfort and safety.

Another option is to use a high-vacuum system which captures fume at the source. The Filtair 215 is an industrial, versatile system for up to four operators using fume extraction guns. The self-cleaning filter is a 16 on the MERV filter rating scale, and it includes a mechanism that releases a strong reverse pulse of air to remove the collected fume particulate off the outside of the filter. This means less maintenance and a longer filter life.

Fume extraction guns: In some applications, an effective way to reduce airborne contaminants is the use of a fume extraction gun. Fume extraction guns operate by capturing the fume generated by the welding process right over and around the weld pool. A vacuum chamber suctions the fumes through the handle of the gun into the gun’s hose through to a port on the high-vacuum filtration system.

Fume extraction guns work most effectively with in-position welding because the gun can most efficiently capture the fume particles at the point of generation. In out-of-position welds, fume capture may be reduced due to the thermal rise of the weld fume and relative position of the gun. This is where the strong suction and variable flow control of a high-vacuum extraction like the Filtair 215 shines.

The Bernard Clean Air fume extraction MIG gun is designed to capture fume at the source to provide a cleaner and more compliant work environment. In an amperage-to-amperage comparison, the Clean Air gun closely matches the weight, handle size, durability and industrial-grade performance of the Bernard BTB semi-automatic air-cooled MIG gun, keeping welder comfort and weld quality top of mind. It’s suitable for use with solid and flux-cored wires and compatible with vacuum systems from most major manufacturers. To match the welder’s work – and personal preference – it’s available in either a curved or straight handle style with a 45- or 60-degree neck depending on the targeted weld joints. The vacuum chamber adjusts to one of four positions for optimized fume capture and weld access.

All told, safety in the workplace is multifaceted, and small changes can amount to big safety improvements. The right PPE needs to be considered from head to toe, while a welder’s physical space needs the right safety checks and supplemental equipment to get the job done at maximum safety. Prioritizing safety initiatives and gear not only protects the health and well-being of operators and the operation, but also helps prevent accidents and injuries – a win on all accounts.

Bernard

Miller Electric Mfg. LLC

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