Welding is not easy, in fact, it is quite dangerous if you try it without any training or practice, which is why the only people doing it are the ones who have received adequate training. One of the reasons why the process of welding needs to be so carefully carried out from the personnel to the execution is due to fume generation.
Welding produces fumes, which are dangerous for health. Now contrary to popular belief, fumes aren’t exactly vapours, technically they are a little different.
What are Fumes?
Contrary to what most people might think, there is a difference between vapours and fumes. Vapours don’t have any solid particles, they are completely gaseous. On the other hand, fumes are comprised of both gaseous parts as well as very miniscule, extremely hot and condensed solid particles that are suspended in the air in manner that allows us to see them as fumes.
Now some vapours are dangerous, especially in lab where there are many gases and some of them can be harmful for human health. However, fumes are a lot more dangerous because by inhaling them, we also inhale the hazardous particles that can wreak havoc to our health.
One example of fumes would be the smoke from a chimney whereas vapours are something that can be found in the form of steam above a kettle full of boiling water.
Welding Fume Dangers
Fumes are predominantly made up of small solid particles, you don’t ever want to breathe in the fumes without any protection so as to avoid inhaling any of those hazardous particles. In addition, the gaseous part of the fumes is also not good for health.
Fumes are usually a mixture of harmful gases. For example, welding fumes usually have iron oxides, zinc oxides, magnesium oxides and oxides of other metals and alloys, all of which are not meant for inhaling. It is one of the main reasons we see welders wearing protective masks and why fume extractions systems are in such demand.
The gases are also usually the dangerous ones, carbon dioxide is universally known to be detrimental to the atmosphere and human health. The same is true for carbon monoxide, ozone, nitrous oxide and others of such kind. Exposure to any of these gases is harmful for human on some level.
Methods to Control Welding Fumes
Before it comes to extracting fumes from a welding work environment, one should be doing all that is possible to control them from the beginning. That means making sure their generation is minimal, all the safety precautions are taken before the start of work and in the case of excess fume production, there are contingency plans to counter it such as having industrial dust and fume extraction systems.
Few steps that can be taken to control welding fumes are:
Welding Curtains: Wedding curtains on their won are not very effective in holding welding fumes but in conjunction with other measures, it is a safe and useful practice. Anyone else present near the welding station/area is protected not only from the welding arc light but also the fumes. That’s is because curtains can also be used to focus on the evaporation of fumes away from a welding station.
Less Fume Production: This can be achieved by preplanning the welding tasks in a way that optimizes the time and resources so that the production of welding fumes is limited to a minimum from the outset. It also means less effort will be needed for the eventual fume extraction.
Automation of Tasks: Automating the token welding tasks in day to day work by the use of machines can go a long way towards lessening the risks of welding for the welders and the people working in the areas close by.
Limited Exposure: As mentioned earlier, careful planning, automation, preventive and safety measures, along with providing necessary shift work and breaks to workers, is beneficial is limiting the exposure to welding arc light and welding fumes for everyone.
When it comes to fume extraction, you can take quite a few approaches, however, sometimes there is one option that is clearly the best based on your budget, the area that needs to be evaporated and the number of personnel working in said area.
Fume extraction can be done at either high or low system pressure. Similarly, you can have small wall mounted units fixed above the welding stations or mobile fume extraction units that can be taken anywhere it is required.
Conversely, one can also opt for high vacuum dust and fume extraction and evaporation system which would cover a larger area compared to smaller units.