The Essentials of Welding PPE

Practising a regulation level of health and safety in the workplace is not only a smart choice but a statutory requirement.

The Personal Protective Equipment at Work Regulations 1992 is a specific guide adapted from the Health and Safety at Work Act 1974. This Act outlines that it is the duty of every employer to ensure the health, safety and welfare of every employee. 

The provision and use of PPE, although the final form of protection, is essential in an industrial workplace — especially for welding shops where lots of hazards are present.

In this guide, we’ll cover why welding PPE is essential and what equipment you require to protect your employees in the workplace.

Why is protective equipment important when welding?

Fumes, flames, flying projectiles, extreme environments — these are just a few of the health risks associated with welding equipment. Although every measure should be made to eradicate these hazards where possible, PPE can help you to be confident your employee welfare is protected.

Welding without PPE leaves employees exposed to common welding risks such as carcinogenic welding fumes, high temperatures and aggressive airborne particles. By choosing not to supply appropriate PPE, or even failing to educate employees on why they should use it, workers are inviting damage to vital organs such as the eyes, lungs and skin.

It’s hard to anticipate accidents, which is why it’s essential to be prepared for them with the right protective welding equipment.

Failing to comply with regulations can not only lead to a poor business image but should employees become ill/injured then you are directly responsible. This comes with its own set of consequences.

In the long run, if inadequate protection is provided and employees become sick it can lead to long periods of inconsistency and downtime. Ultimately this has an impact on both overhead and outputs.

Supplying PPE also lets your employees know that you’re aware of the importance of their safety. This can improve their thoughts about their treatment from the business and make them feel valued.

Welding Protection

Best PPE Equipment for Welding

As welding can expose workers to so many hazards, it’s important to do a proper evaluation of the risks present in the workplace and select your PPE based on the risk assessment. For example, if your welding occurs in a wide-open, well-ventilated area then your employee won’t need such an advanced piece of respiratory protective equipment.

Below are several essential types of PPE that we believe are necessary for most welding situations.

Headshields/Face screens

Common forms of PPE for welding are the headshield or face screen. Welding head shields and welding helmets are perhaps the most iconic symbol of the welding profession.

The two types of headshield are the advanced headshield and manual passive headshields. Passive headshields do not have technological additions and are much more traditional. They are similar to face shields but offer more coverage around the face and neck as the material is wider and more rectangular.

The advanced headshields are a revolutionary addition to the range of PPE not offered for welders. PWP’s range of 3M headshields provides uncompromised protection against respiratory and optical workplace hazards.

Speedglas headshields are fitted with auto-darkening screens to protect the eyes against bright exposure during the weld. With protection against glare and projectiles, this solution is great for visual protection and covers the whole of the head like a helmet to keep sensitive skin protected.

Face screens and welding masks are different from headshields as they do not cover as much of the head. They are most frequently made from a visor and a headpiece that keeps the face screen secure. Inside the face screen, there is usually a face seal that keeps a flush fit against the skin and prevents fumes and projectiles from flying toward the face from the chin area. The Vitrex Combination model also offers auditory protection.

It’s important to note that face screens can also be paired with head, shoulder and neck covers for more protection.

All headshields and face screens should be fitted for the wearer. Where adjustments can’t be made to PPE, fit testing should take place to make sure an individual has a proper fit.

3M Adflo Welding Facemask

Fume Extraction

Fumes are a hazard that falls under the Control of Substances Hazardous to Health (COSHH). An influx or overload of fumes in the welding workplace can not only have a long-term adverse impact by evolving cancerous cells but can, in some cases, cause asphyxiation.

Fume extraction equipment will remove hazardous fume before they can reach dangerous levels in a welder’s lungs.

PWP’s range of fume extraction machines is available in fixed and mobile styles, to go with your employees onsite when the welding environment changes.

Do you already have a fume extraction system? Is it thoroughly examined by a competent person at least every 14 months? This is a legal requirement.

kemper welding fume control

Gloves & Gauntlets

Skin is sensitive and even the smallest projectiles can cause severe irreversible damage. For welders, their hands are vital for the trade and they shouldn’t be subjected to a potentially preventable injury.

Welding causes a lot of sparks and even though most extinguish in the air, should a projectile or flame fall on the skin, it can lead to blistering and open wounds. Welding also brings welders into contact with sharp objects and metals.

Protective gloves and gauntlets can be the PPE solution to help reduce these risks.

We supply cut level 5 gloves high cut resistant fibres blended with soft nylon and other synthetic yarns to produce an ergonomically tested, close-fitting and extremely comfortable glove. This premium glove is further enhanced with a durable and dextrous unique NitraDry foam nitrile palm coating that offers good mechanical protection in a variety of handling situations.

Where to buy welding PPE

At PWP, we want to make the welding industry the best it can be. Our vision is to put the best quality equipment into the hands of welders and that includes ensuring that welders have the appropriate PPE to keep themselves protected.

Want more information about welding PPE? Contact us today on 01234 345111 or email [email protected]

Common welding safety hazards and how to avoid them

When it comes to health and safety in the industrial workplace, the welfare of employees is the most important consideration. Worksites and factories are full of risks that must be assessed and accounted for so that safe workplace practice can go ahead. This can include infrastructure, materials, other workers and contaminants.

In 2018/2019, 147 workers were killed at work and 550,000 injuries occurred in the workplace, leading to 30.7 million working days being lost. Each year, 13,000 deaths are suspected to be a result of past workplace exposure.

Multiple studies have observed excess mortality from pneumonia in welders and workers exposed to metal fumes as well as an increase in pulmonary infection in metal workers.

Controlling safety hazards and understanding how to resolve them is the only way to help prevent injury or harmful exposure. In this guide, we will outline the common welding safety hazards and how you can avoid them.

Importance of welding health and safety

Controlling the safety of workers while welding might seem like a no-brainer but there’s a lot to consider, from fumes to tools to the environment. If welders are working at height or in an unfamiliar or high-risk environment (such as offshore workers or on an electric plant) then further safety concerns should be enforced.

All standards and considerations should already be practised in line with the Health and Safety at Work Act 1974. This act makes it the duty of every employer to ensure the health, safety and welfare at work for every employee. This includes the provision of instruction, training, PPE and supervision as well as maintenance of machinery and equipment.

Not only does health and safety keep your workers safe but it also ensures that, as a company, you do not suffer huge profit losses as a result of legal consequences or downtime from missing workers. You can’t put a price on human life but you can put a price on neglecting it.

Common welding safety hazards

Electricity:

A voltage as low as 50 volts applied between two parts of the human body causes a current to flow that can block the electrical signals between the brain and the muscles. This can stop the heart or lungs.

When an electrical current passes through the human body, it heats the tissue along the length of the current flow. This can lead to deep burns that often require major surgery and permanent disability.

The arc welding process requires a live electrical circuit. This means that all arc welders using hand-held equipment will be at risk of electric shock and electrical burns. The risk for MIG/ MAG and TIG welding is reduced because the welding current is normally switched on and off using the trigger or footswitch so is more controlled.

For all arc welding processes, the essentials of safe practice are:

  • Welding equipment conforms to the appropriate international (ISO) or British (BS) standards.
  • Fixed welding equipment is installed by a qualified person and is connected as recommended by the manufacturer.
  • The insulation on the welding and current return leads is undamaged and the conductor is thick enough to carry the current safely.
  • All connectors are clean, undamaged and correctly rated for the current required.
  • Never use equipment with damaged insulation on the welding cables, plugs, clamps or torch/electrode holder as this exposes live circuits.
  • Use the appropriate personal protective equipment for the task such as rubber gloves or gauntlets.

As for the environment, should a worker need to weld in damp or wet conditions or position the welder inside a tank, an insulating mat or dry platform should be provided so there is no direct contact with wet or conductive surfaces. A rubber floor mat or wooden pallet will work but should be large enough to offer protection if the welder has to kneel or lie down.

Welders should make sure their PPE or clothing is clean, and dry and should cover as much of the body as possible to minimise naked skin so they are less conductive.Welders clothing like overalls can provide a thick fabric layer to protect sensitive skin.

Welding Processes

Fumes & Gases:

All welding types produce smoke that contains harmful metal fume and gas byproducts such as aluminium, arsenic, lead, nitrogen, carbon monoxide and hydrogen fluoride.

Acute exposure to welding fume and gases can result in eye, nose and throat irritation, dizziness and nausea.

Prolonged exposure to welding fume can cause fatal damage to organs and immune systems. Health effects from certain fumes may include metal fume fever, stomach ulcers, kidney damage and nervous system damage. Prolonged exposure to manganese fumes can cause Parkinson’s–like symptoms.

Gases such as helium, argon, and carbon dioxide displaces oxygen in the air and can lead to suffocation, especially in enclosed spaces. Carbon monoxide, a scentless gas, won’t be detected by the welder and is a serious asphyxiation hazard.

As of February 2019, the HSE will no longer permit welding to be carried out without suitable control measures in place, regardless of duration. Control measures will range from ventilation to suitable respiratory protective equipment (RPE), depending on the nature of the activity.

This enforcement is a result of new scientific evidence from the International Agency for Research declaring that exposure to all welding fumes, including mild steel welding fume, is carcinogenic.

The damage done to welders, without correct health and safety practises, is not always instant. That’s why it’s important to protect your workers from the very beginning. Without protection against fumes and gases, employees can become another fatality in the 13,000 deaths already attributed to workplace exposure every year.

To control this risk, in line with new standards from the HSE, suitable engineering controls will be needed for indoor welding activities such as Local Exhaust Ventilation (LEV).

Where LEV does not cover the risk of exposure, it should be supplemented by RPE to protect against residual fume.

Appropriate RPE should always be provided for welding outdoors and all welders must be trained and instructed on how to use their RPE because when used incorrectly PPE can be useless.

The HSE will no longer be accepting any welding activities to be carried out without any suitable exposure control measure in place as NO LEVEL is safe.

Monitoring air quality is a key safety factor as a lot of damaging fumes are non-detectable by human senses. Airwatch Monitoring System continuously monitors the air quality in production halls and warehouses using an optical, laser-operated measuring method. In addition, AirWatch controls the room ventilation and extraction systems and thus ensures efficient use as required.

PPE ensures that all individuals are protected during personal tasks and that their PPE is there when they need it. While FFP1 dust masksare suitable for airborne particles that are more irritable than dangerous, FFP2 and FFP3 masksshould be chosen for welding and used alongside previous measures mentioned.

PWP’s 3M Adflo systems can be used with filters for protection against fumes and gases in one system.

Welding Hazards

Fire or Explosion:

Fires and explosions caused by hot works have claimed the lives of many workers. Despite the fact the risks have been known for years, fatal and life-changing accidents still occur.

Hot metal parts, sparks and drips of molten metal can easily start a fire. Before starting to weld, wood, fabric, cardboard and other flammable material should always be cleared. Note that the heat, sparks and drips of metal and slag can travel a considerable distance and can start fires in adjacent rooms.

One of the main (and most dangerous) causes of fires and explosions is welding on, or near, flammable substances. When using a welder or flame cut on drums and tanks make sure you know the risks and can compensate for them.

In Scotland, a young welder was using a plasma cutter to remove the lid from a drum. When the blade began to cut through the metal, it generated a shower of sparks that ignited the flammable vapours inside the drum. The drum exploded, causing the lid to strike the welder on the head, resulting in fatal injuries.

A Health and Safety Executive investigation found that the cutting operation had not been properly risk assessed by the company. The drum had not been completely emptied of waste engine oil, and this would have been contaminated with petrol, causing the drum to be filled with petrol vapours.

The investigation also found that there was a lack of information, instruction and training, leading to the worker using an unsafe method to carry out the task. Although it was known by workers at the garage the used engine oil could be contaminated with fuel, they were not fully aware of the dangers of using a heat source such as the plasma cutter to remove the drum lid. The employer was prosecuted and fined £15,000.

Welding equipment requires gas to function. When welding or transporting materials, always be aware of gas spills or dangerous levels. If have to carry any gas cylinder inside a vehicle you should always close the main cylinder valve and ensure they won’t knock together.

Physical Damage:

Welding jobs have lots of risks to the body that can come from equipment and environmental factors like height, lose parts or infrastructure, sharp objects and heavy loads.

Eye injuries make up around a quarter of all welding injuries and can be permanent. These can be burns welding sparks, chemical vapours or radiation damage from ultraviolet and infrared. “Welder’s flash,” a burn to the eyes, accounts for a great deal of construction eye injuries.

Optical and face PPE lowers these risks considerably. Goggles and glasses approved to correct EN standards will protect the eyes from small projectiles and sparks. For full facial protection, welding headshields and masks give a wider coverage layer. For super protection, even against fumes, ADFLO systems are the ultimate in welding PPE for respiratory and visual hazard control.

Falls and crushing are also risks that lead to a high number of injuries during welding work. This is usually when a risk assessment of the building or surroundings has not been carried out. If a welder must lay down or stand under large objects then the vibrations should not make materials fall. If a welder is operating at height, how are they secured? One misstep backwards can be a long way down.

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Best ways to ensure welding safety?

Ensuring welding safety is all about preparation. No employee or worker should ever proceed to weld without the correct equipment, information or training. Every new environment and situation (and any change to a regular workplace) should be assessed to see whether new safety measures should be put in place.

Long-term damage to personnel is as dangerous and damaging as short-term injury and all risks should be handled with the same integrity and care. By avoiding risks in the workplace, you can ensure your workers or your own health is protected as well as your brand reputation, revenue and relationships.

Safety hazards in the welding industry are always going to exist but they can be reduced drastically by using the appropriate equipment and making necessary preparations. Choose tools and welding machines you can trust.

At PWP, we strive to assist the metal fabrication industry. We only supply our customers with brands that we know are the best so workers can stay safe while also being efficient and reducing downtime. We’re fully prepared and equipped to protect you against risks with our expansive range of welding PPE.

Want to make sure you’re staying compliant and safe at work? Contact us today to see how we can help you on 01234 345111 or email [email protected]

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Robotic Welding: Is It Worth it? 

Did you know the first workplace robot was designed in the 1950s and was known as the Unimate? The first Unimate model was sold to vehicle manufacturing giant General Motors in 1960 and worked on die casting and spot welding!

But why use a robot for welding at all? In this guide, we’ll discuss why robotic welding is so useful in the industry and whether the costs of the robotic units are worth the investment.

What is Robotic Welding?

Robotic welding is often considered the rival of manual welding. However, robotic welding has actually grown in popularity as a result of the unavailability of welding personnel. Out of all robotic applications used in the workplace, robotic welding units make up 29% and with increasing production demands and dropping human involvement in this industry, this percentage will probably continue to rise.

The robotic welding unit, also known as a robot welding cell, is made up of a combination of components. These parts include those that actively complete welding tasks as well as accessories and safety features that improve the operation of the machine.

Most people have the idea that only big businesses need robotic welding because these welding systems appear so large and grand. However, companies of all sizes can improve their production times and business costs with these machines.

Robotic welding systems are most commonly used for resistance spot welding and arc welding for high quantities of products. These types of welding feature strongly in the automobile industries and any business with large production lines. But what makes robots so useful in these environments?

Statistically, human workers only have 50% arc-on time on a good day and this is subject to decrease. In contrast, robotic welding units have about 75% arc-on time and can increase for materials with longer seams. Humans are also…well, human and need to do human things like sleeping and eating.

Combined with no necessary human downtime, welding units are also not subject to human error or human limitations. Each movement of the robot arm and weld is precise, even on the most complex builds if they are configured correctly. This is consistent too because it does not decrease with fatigue.

By reducing errors, less material is wasted and by increasing the speed and precision (and reducing the spatter) of the weld, fewer consumables are burnt up. Combined, this has a significant positive impact on cost output and a strong improvement in productivity.

Another feature of robotics is its capability to withstand heat. It’s no mystery that welding is a job with risks (the iconic pull-down masks don’t exist for fun). Workers are exposed to high heats, airborne gases, molten materials and volatile objects. Robotic welding automation machines reduce the direct involvement of human workers, keeping them out of harm’s way.

professional welding

How to use a welding robot

Humans are not completely removed from the usage of robotic welding systems. To use a robotic welding unit, programs are inputted via the teach pendant and saved to the controller, telling the robot what to do. These programs move the welding robot and dictate the movement of the torch on the end of its arm, placing it exactly where it needs to perform tasks.

Robotic welding needs to be supervised constantly and maintained by a trained operator. If no one in a company’s employment has worked with robotic welding before, it’s advised to hire someone certified for this skill.

A trained technician will be able to resolve any on-site issues there and then while monitoring the capability of the machine for specific tasks. This helps reduce downtime and ensures smoother running.

The below outlines the process of a welding robot at work:

Welding instructions

A WORD OF CAUTION

We must just add a word of caution regarding the work holding jigs and the co-ordination of implementation.

  • The jigs are the make or break of a successful robotic welding system and can cost more than the robot itself. These jigs are normally designed and manufactured by an independent party.
  • The robot manufacturer generally does not get involved with the welding process itself.
  • The welding machine manufacturer generally does not get involved with the actual robots.
  • The integrator knows about robots and jigs but generally not the actual welding process.

This can make backup and support complex, the coordination of all four parties above is essential.

How much are Robotic Welding Machines?

Robotic welding machines are not a piece of equipment you can invest in if you’ve pulling pennies from the back of your sofa. However, they are a machine you can invest in if you want to improve your profits for the future.

The price of robotic welding units will depend on the power and reach requirements of the system and the quality of its components as well as the advanced technology of its programming device. Despite a rather considerate initial payment, robotic welders work (24/7 if you need them to) to return your investment.

Robotic welding jigs can be manually loaded with components or loaded with another robot and is some cases a robot has been used to hold the components while another robot performs the welding operation.

Without mistakes, material wastage and downtime, these machines are cost-effective for the long term to get your welding projects completed in good time and at great quality.

Robotic welder from Fronius

Best Robotic Welding Systems

For the best results, you need the best systems. Global market leader Fronius are at the forefront of welding technology and welding robotic systems. With a presence in over eighty countries, Fronius machines are changing the face of welding worldwide with large investments into research and development.

That’s why PWP take a huge amount of pride in providing our valued customers with units from this range that go above and beyond the call of duty for magnificent results.

From TIG systems to MIG Welding systems, through CMT & Plasma systems, the Fronius range of robotic welding systems provides solutions from simple to the sophisticated.

The following is a summary of the welding processes and their application to robotics:

MMA

The MMA welding processes is not suitable for robotic applications.

MIG Welding

MIG welding is a robust & tolerant welding process which lends itself to robotic applications.

CMT Welding

The CMT process is derived from MIG welding and gives even greater process robustness & tolerance. In some cases, the CMT process can replace TIG or Plasma welding especially for the robotic welding of aluminium alloys.

TIG Welding

TIG welding can be problematic in robotic applications, consistence arc starting is an issue and as the wire feed is a separate component to the torch, accesses to the work can be problematic. If the join is an outside corner and not requiring any filler wire (called an autogenous weld) the TIG welding process can be successfully automated using robots.

Plasma Welding

Plasma welding has many advantages over robotic TIG welding, stand-off tolerance, narrow consistent arc, pilot arc running continually making main arc starting much more consistent and reliable. The down-sides are the filler wire feeding has the same problems as TIG welding and the sophistication of the equipment.

Having said that, plasma welding is sometimes the only process that can make the welding high enough quality.

Resistance Welding

Resistance welding is very suited to robotic applications. Sometimes the work is moved by the robot in relation to a fixed resistance welding machine and other time the welding head is on the robot which manipulates it around the workpiece. Once again the jigging or fixturing of the workpiece is one of the largest factors ii successfully implementing a robotic setup.

Who uses welding Robots?

With welding, the options are only as limited as your mind can imagine. From Chevrolets to Crates, from flashy Ferraris to Fencing, welding robots are the solution for manufacturers and businesses looking to increase their productivity, safety and reduce their downtime and wastage.

Compared to other welding options, welding robots give an unrivalled precision and pace that is simply not paralleled by human beings on large scale jobs and production lines. Alongside human employees, welding robots can change the way your company succeeds and allow you to venture forward toward ideas you previously thought were impossible.

welding in action

Where to buy welding robots?

PWP aims to help the Metal Fabrication Industry reach its full potential. We have an unwavering commitment to being a driving force for businesses everywhere that want to further their current system or discover the worthwhile investment of going robotic.

Our skilled team has extensive experience in the welding industry. This means everyone in our sales, administration, finance, store, and service departments are equipped to help you find the welding solution you seek. As a result, we are able to offer all-round assistance, advice and after-sales service.

So if you want to make improvements in your productivity or need more advice on why a robotic welding system is the best option for you, contact us today on 01234 345111 or email [email protected]

Bio of Author:

This article was written by Richard Fryer, a partner at PWP Industrial with 24 years of experience.

Richard

Passionate about supporting the professional welder and a demonstrated history of supplying products to the welding and fabrication industry, Richard is an invaluable asset to PWP Industrial and contributes toward the end goal of providing innovative solutions.

Connect with Richard on Linkedin.