The importance of meeting OSHA standards for ventilation

Improve the air and your bottom line

How healthy is the air in your fabrication shop? Do you feel comfortable and safe working there for hours at a time? You should. It comes down to having the right ventilation. Here are some options.

From slippery floors to noise, numerous hazards exist in every workplace. But one of the very worst hazards is polluted air, particularly in the welding environment.

Regardless of the industry concerned, the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) recommends that hazards of all kinds be controlled at the source. In some industries, it is possible to build an engineered barrier between the hazard and the workspace. Additionally, specific personal protective equipment (PPE) should be worn or used to minimize any type of risk.

In the welding industry, common PPE includes safety goggles, welding helmets fitted with filter glass, gauntlets, spats, aprons, and heat-resistant gloves. Work areas also should be screened off so that others in the work area are not exposed to the electric arc or its reflection while welding is being conducted. The intense light associated with the arc can cause permanent eye damage.

The dangerous health risks of breathing in welding fumes are horrendous. In addition to relatively minor symptoms like dizziness; nausea; and nose, throat, and eye irritations, OSHA warns that prolonged exposure to welding fumes and gases over time can result in lung damage and various forms of cancer. Welding fumes also can cause stomach ulcers, damage to the nervous system, kidney damage, and conditions like metal fume fever.

Welding in confined spaces is particularly risky and can lead to asphyxiation and suffocation.

If the OSHA standards are met or, better yet, exceeded, welders and other employees working in potentially hazardous environments will have clean, unpolluted air to breathe.

OSHA Standards for Ventilation

It is essential that all welders understand the hazards they are exposed to. It is even more important that employers take steps to minimize these hazards.

While general ventilation that ensures natural or even forced movement of fresh air in the welding environment reduces gas and fume levels, this is not adequate. Not even welding outdoors or in open spaces provides sufficient ventilation for welders. Rather, local exhaust ventilation systems should be employed at the source to ensure that fumes, welding dust, and harmful gases are removed from every worker’s breathing zone.

Flexible or portable exhaust systems should be positioned to remove the polluted air away from the welder’s breathing zone.

Alternatively, general mechanical ventilation can ensure that welding fumes and polluted air are minimized and maintained within safe limits that meet OSHA’s health and safety regulations.

Figure 1: Traditional push/pull, duct-type ventilation system.

 

If necessary, additional respiratory protection may be needed, particularly if adequate ventilation cannot be provided.

But these are minimum specifications; ideally, a proven general mechanical system should be used together with a local exhaust system.

Industry Options for Improving Ventilation in Welding Environments

While the ventilation equipment chosen must meet the needs of the type of welding carried out as well as the location used, the best system ensures that the entire workshop, factory floor, or industrial warehouse is properly ventilated.

General Mechanical Ventilation Systems
Welding operations pollute the air. The warm, contaminated air rises and then sinks when it cools. Traditional push/pull, duct-type ventilation systems literally pull the polluted air out of the workshop via pipes and push clean air back, also via pipes (Figure 1). This type of system works reasonably well if smoke and dust levels are low, but it has obvious shortcomings, including the fact that it relies on a circular flow of air, and inevitably some dust and fumes mix in with the air that has been purified.

A recent development is a freestanding air tower that uses principles of displacement flow to provide the best possible full-room ventilation. It works in a similar but much more sophisticated way than the traditional push/pull system. Remember that warm, polluted air rises, and the tower sucks this contaminated air in from the top through its 360-degree lamella or gills. A two-stage method automatically cleans the filter. Because the air is pushed out slowly, without any turbulence, the possibility of dust and fumes polluting this clean air is reduced. Additionally, dust that is not contaminated is collected into bins for easy disposal.

Freestanding air towers are suitable for all types of welding applications, and they work exceptionally well in large production areas and where local exhaust systems aren’t possible.

Local Exhaust Ventilation Systems
Local exhaust ventilation systems use a variety of welding fume exhausts as well as filtration units, many of which are mobile. Wall-mounted or large central units can be attached to highly efficient exhaust arms that filter the polluted air at the source.

The choice of a local exhaust system depends on a number of requirements. For instance, some are more suitable for frequent or continuous use than others, while some are better-suited for use at workstations that change frequently.

Features also vary. For instance, you might prefer a mobile filter that has an exhaust hood that rotates and swivels and doesn’t have to be adjusted frequently. Maybe an automated cleaning cycle is important to you, or you just want a self-cleaning filter incorporated in a unit that has automatic dust disposal. Some units are meant for welding environments where there isn’t much dust or smoke; others are designed to handle high levels of dust and smoke.

Central and freestanding filtration units also vary, although all are stationary. A central extraction unit designed for use with robots is a good choice for large welding workshops or where grinding is common. It has a filter that is cleaned automatically with rotating nozzles and compressed air and can be used with various exhaust arms if required.Another type, designed for use in smaller workshops, can be used at up to four workstations at one time and be connected to a central piping system.

All of these systems are OSHA-compliant.

It really is a no-brainer that those operating welding workshops and factories should use well-designed ventilation equipment to keep their employees (and themselves) safe and healthy. Ultimately, doing so helps ensure that workers perform better, which improves productivity, reduces costs, and increases profits.

S.O.R.T TOOL

SORT Your Way to a Safer Work Environment 

There is an endless amount of acronyms when talking about safety. The acronym S.O.R.T. is a tool that can help remind us to take steps to address hazards and create a safe work environment. S.O.R.T stands for Stop, Observe, Recognize, and Take Ownership.

  1. Stop- It is necessary to take time not only at the beginning of the work shift to evaluate both the work area and equipment for hazards, but also as conditions change. When we are rushed we miss the small details that matter. Always take the time before a task begins to evaluate the work task you are about to do. Anytime conditions change or things are not going as planned, stop work and evaluate what needs done to correct the situation.
  2. Observe- Take time to evaluate at the environment around you. How are weather conditions, lighting, and temperature at the work area? Are the needed personnel and tools in the work area ready to go?  Has all equipment been thoroughly inspected prior to starting the work task? Has all necessary paperwork such as SOPs, JSAs, or permits been reviewed and completed?
  3. Recognize- Once you have stopped and observed the work area what hazards do you see? Your ability to recognize hazards comes down to utilizing training, safety meetings, company policies, lessons learned, safety shares, and past experiences. Much time is spent in discussing and training everyone onsite to be able to recognize hazards in order to mitigate them and protect ourselves from injury.
  4. Take Ownership- Ownership is the most important part of the process. Once you recognize hazards or potential issues while on the job, own them. See through that they get properly corrected in a timely manner. It is easy to just walk past an issue and think that it is not your problem. In reality any hazard on the job is your problem. If someone else is hurt or there is property damage due to the hazard you recognized and walked past, it will have some sort of effect on you. Incidents affect a jobsite as a whole, and depending the severity, can have far reaching consequences for an entire company. There is also guilt you could feel due to an injury occurring to a coworker from a hazard you could have addressed. Taking ownership means more than just communicating the hazard to the other people in the work area. Stop work if necessary and get the right people involved to correctly address the hazard.

Summary

While these four steps are very basic, it is easy to skip some of them and just go through the motions due to complacency or time restrictions when at work. We often complete many of the same work tasks in the same way every day. This makes it easy to fall into a trap of having blinders on to hazards that could lead to an injury. Use the S.O.R.T. tool to remind yourself to take the time to really evaluate your work area for hazards and to take ownership of them.

Sort Your Way to a Safer Work Environment Safety Poster

Recognized Vs Unrecognized Hazards

There are many hazards in our workplaces and at home that can cause great harm if exposed to them. So much time, effort, and money is spent by companies to train their employees to be able to recognize hazards in an attempt to prevent injuries from occurring. While it is often thought that new employees of a company who may not understand the hazards of the job are most at risk for injury, a case can also be made for those experienced employees who have become complacent with the hazards of their work. A question to consider: Which are more dangerous- the hazards we recognize or the ones we do not?

The Dangers of Unrecognized Hazards

Unrecognized hazards create a huge risk for injury on the job. Failure to be able to recognize hazards can result in exposure to every employee in a work area where the hazard is present. A huge goal in return for the time spent discussing safety in the workplace is to improve employees’ abilities in hazard recognition. The thought process being, if employees are able to recognize hazards they can take action to protect themselves and others from them. That being said, it is important to consider those employees who have been on the job a long time and recognize the hazards of their work however may not take the necessary action in mitigating the hazards due to becoming complacent or comfortable with the risk associated with them.

Hasil gambar untuk hazards versusComplacency with the Recognized Hazards of Our Work

Workers in their positions for a long time understand the majority of the hazards of their work. Experienced workers have sat through countless hours of safety trainings and have many hours of on the job which allows them to recognize the hazards of their work. However, with this experience can also bring complacency towards taking risks for these workers. Those employees who have been on the job for a long time can be desensitized to the gravity of the hazards around them. Working around hazards for a long period of time without any negative consequences occurring can create a false sense of security which in turn can lead to an employee to be more willing to put themselves in the line of fire. This is often the case when time pressures or pressure for production, even if it is just self-imposed pressure, is present.

Habits and Safety

We all have habits that we follow on a daily or weekly basis. These habits have a major effect on our life. They also affect the choices we make at work. The choice to follow a safety procedure on any given day could be affected by a habit you have had for years.

Your Daily Habits

Think about the habits you follow every single day. Start with waking up. Did you hit the snooze button once or twice? Do you do this every day? What about breakfast? Did you cook in the house or did you stop at the same gas station you do every day to grab a quick bite to eat? Most likely the choices that you have made from the point you woke up today to right now in this safety meeting are the same choices you make every single day. These daily choices are your habits.

How Habits Work

According to Charles Duhigg, who is the author of the book The Power of Habit, there is a “habit loop”. The habit loop he describes in his book is a three part process. The first part of the process is the cue or trigger, the second is the routine or behavior itself, and the third is the reward.

Habits Safety TalkLet us take the example of you repeatedly hitting the snooze button and look at it as a bad habit you want to break. We will discuss the habit by looking at Duhigg’s habit loop. The trigger of this habit would be your alarm going off in the morning. While the alarm is blaring your mind tells you it is okay to hit the snooze button and continuing sleeping because in the past you have done it. Hitting the snooze button would be the behavior. The reward would be getting more sleep. To break this habit you would need to change one of the three components.

Looking at the routine first, maybe changing the location of your alarm to a location where you would have to get out of bed would work in breaking the habit. The alarm going off is still the trigger, but you have changed the routine by having to physically get out of bed making it less likely you will go back to sleep. Another option to help break the habit is experiencing a different reward which would be having more time in the morning. By not hitting the snooze button repeatedly you will experience a new reward of more time and less rush in the mornings before work. This reward alone over time may lead you to curve the habit of hitting snooze. Not all habits are easy to break, but you get the point.

Habits and Safety on the Job

Your habits may be leading you to consistently take shortcuts and not follow safety procedures. Are there certain safety procedures you always follow and others that you rarely follow? For example, you are a welder and every single day you complete your JSA, but many days there are times you choose not to lower your helmet while welding. Why do you choose to follow one safety procedure but not the other? Maybe you complete your JSA every day because you have to turn it in at the end of the day and you have learned that it gets reviewed. The reward would be not getting disciplined by a supervisor so you choose to do the JSA every day. On the other hand you choose not to lower your welding helmet because it is hard to see through and you know supervisors rarely enter your work area. The reward is that you feel it is quicker to do the task, you can see better, and you have not been injured yet. In your mind there is no consequence that will most likely come that is more negative than the reward you receive from not putting the helmet down so you continue the behavior.