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Welding Stainless Steel – Tips for Health and Safety
Stainless steel (SS) is common place on every worksite. Throughout construction, workers will need to weld stainless steel pieces together. Hazardous fumes are not only a hazard to the welder, but also everyone else on the worksite. At Mascot Steel we are proud of our ability to fabricate and supply quality steel for any purpose, but we also have a strong focus on safety. With this in mind, we have prepared a brief blog post highlighting our top tips for staying safe when welding stainless steel.
What’s the danger in welding?
In order to fuse two pieces of metal together, an arc welder needs to heat the base metal and filler material to extreme temperatures. Throughout this process, vast quantities of fine particles and vapours are released into the air – many of which are extremely hazardous to humans. The toxic fumes released during manual metal arc (MMA) welding can be a combination of the following:
- Metallic Oxides
The most toxic is Chromium (VI), which is not only a known carcinogen but can also cause severe skin, eye, nose, throat and lung irritation. Small amounts of metal additives will also be released, such as manganese, nickel, titanium, copper, vanadium and more. It is critical that all welders are adequately protected against the harmful effects of welding fumes, and ideally work should be carried out in a secure area away from other workers.
Welding of Coated or Painted Stainless Steel
When working with galvanized SS, workers should be aware of zinc oxide fumes. Breathing these fumes may cause metal fume fever, with symptoms similar to that of the flu (nausea, dizziness, aches and pains, fever etc).
If you will be welding SS which has been coated with paint, you need to be aware that the result fumes contain lead oxide. This compound can cause lead poisoning as well as damage to your kidneys, central nervous system and reproductive system.
If possible, prior to welding you should remove the paint/coating from the area being subjected to the arc. This can be done using an angle grinder and flap disc, and it will reduce the amount of toxic vapours released during welding.
Short- and Long-Term Dangers of Inhaling Welding Fumes
Upon initial exposure, effects are usually mild to moderate. Most people experience skin, nose, eyes and throat irritation. You may also experience nausea or mild dizziness.
Long term, the effects can be devastating. In addition to causing damage to vital organs, it is not uncommon for welders to develop eye, lung and other cancers as a result of exposure to welding fumes and UV radiation.
Maximizing Safety during Welding
There are many ways to reduce the health risk involved with welding. As mentioned above, paints/coatings should be removed prior to welding. But you should also consider:
- Alternative Welding Methods – MMA welding releases vast amounts of fumes. Reducing power output is one way to reduce fumes, but you could also consider an alternative method such as Tungsten Inert Gas (TIG) which produces the least fumes of all welding methods.
- All Possible Hazards – When welding stainless steel, you need to consider the environment (indoor/outdoor, confined space, ventilation), materials including base metals, surface coatings and electrodes and the welding method which will be used.
- Ventilation – This is one of the most important pieces of equipment for safety, and you should never rely on natural ventilation alone. You can use local exhaust systems which will handle fumes and gases with ease, or you might also consider using a ventilated workbench. Extraction arms can also be beneficial, but they must be positioned with care.
- PPE Equipment – Always wear appropriate safety gear, which at a minimum includes air purifying respiratory protection to filter out particulates and ozone. You must also wear a full-face welding helmet equipped with UV filtered lens. It is important that every part of your body is covered by non-flammable clothing. Flame resistant gloves and steel-capped boots should also be worn.
- Share the Job Around – In order to minimise exposure to harmful fumes, it’s a good idea to share the job around between your colleagues. If there are multiple welders working within the same zone, welding screens should also be used.
Stay Safe on the Job
Maintaining awareness of the dangers involved in welding is important. Stainless steel is used in the construction of buildings and a wide range of products daily, and welding is a common practice. By following recommended safety guidelines, ensuring proper ventilation and wearing appropriate PPE gear you can achieve exceptional results whilst significantly reducing the risk of adverse health effects caused by welding fumes.
Mascot Steel are proud to supply builders and individuals with quality steel for projects big and small. If you have any questions about stainless steel welding safety or would like to enquire about our range of products, please contact us today.