Sparks and weld spatter are most common in assembly and construction work, for instance in shipbuilding, industry and infrastructure (like bridges and rails). In some locations, steel constructions have to be welded together or pulled apart. Grinding often produces an arc of sparks, and in the case of welding, there is often molten metal parts (weld spatter). The presence of these particles presents one of the most serious work-related risks.
What are the risks?Weld spatter stays hot longer, which means that your clothes can catch fire. If weld spatter ends up in a pocket, collar or boot, it can cause serious injury. Exposure to fire and sparks almost immediately causes burns. There are different ways we can be exposed:
- Contact: touching a hot surface or open fire
- Conduction: heat travelling through an object and heating up that object
- Radiation: heat source radiates so much heat that it can create burns or heat stress
In most cases, injuries due to open fire involve burns. Burns are divided into 4 levels: from first to fourth degree burns.
In many cases, even first degree burns necessitate e trip to the first aid post to cool the burn. With a fourth degree burn, both the skin and the underlying tissue is irreparably damaged. Injuries can escalate to life-threating levels, and employees can die, become handicapped or be scarred for life. Infections also can keep people out of the running for weeks.
Under the skin, the consequences can be very diverse. Organs are often so sensitive that they shut off during exposure. Muscles can be affected, making revalidation necessary.
- Poisonous dust and fumes can damage internal and external organs.
- The flame arch can cause a huge electrical shock.
- If hot particles land in the wrong place, they can also cause fire and explosion hazards.
- Heat affects a person’s productivity and health. For more information about ‘high temperatures’, check out the article about ‘heat stress’.
- UV-radiation cause by welding damages the eyes.
The employer provides information, instructions, PPG and work supervision1. The employee takes the courses, works according to instructions and uses the proper PPG2. The aim of the PPG has to be to limit the risks. Taking the user into account, available in sufficient quantities, in good state and replaced or repaired in time3. The clothes that your employees wear have to meet specific standards, for which strict requirements were set up in 2018, in the Guideline 89/686/EEG.
How to handle the source of the risk?
An employer first has to try to remove the cause of the risk.
An example is the automation or robotization of grinding and welding activities, where risky activities are carried out by robots and your employees are no longer exposed to the dangers. This effectively managers the risk. However, this is an expensive option that is not applied in all situations or sectors. Other innovations can also help: for instance, cutting torches can be replaced my lasers or water-cutting.
What are collective measures?
In practice, removing the source is usually difficult. However, in many cases, collective (technical) measures can be taken.
Physical separations in work areas prevent other employees from being unnecessarily exposed. Fire-resistant welding blankets or screens prevent exposure to heat, fire, sparks and UV light. Operator cabins with tinted windows provide both distance from the process and protection against the light. Underwater cutting tables prevent sparks or spatter, and effective suction can remove toxic dust and gases, and proper ventilation keeps the temperature in the work area tolerable.
These measures involve the organization of the work space, which requires investments in existing processes, but also offers opportunities when replacing or organizing new work areas. That is why welding screens are mobile or fixed, a relatively cheap and therefore common solution to separate different work spaces.
What are individual measures?
In addition, measures can be taken at an individual level, often in the organization sphere, for instance internal agreements, guidelines or routines.
Sometimes, collective measures provide insufficient solutions, and the employer has to take individual measures:
- TRA: conducting a Task & Risk Analysis in the workplace allows the employer to map the risks and come up with measures that have to make the risk acceptable.
- Work preparation: with high-risk tasks (like gouging), the work environment and the people have to be prepared. The people need to be informed about (temporarily) higher risks.
- Make sure that flammable objects, like pallets and packaging, are at a safe distance from the fire or sparks.
- Instruction and training: People are informed about the risks of the work they do and protective measures that have been taken. Training can be an effective tool to practice both predictable and non-predictable situations.
- PPG scan: an analysis aimed at proving protection against open fire. By making a scan of the function and risks, we can recommend suitable PPG for each function.
- Toolbox: teaching people how to use the protective gear correctly.
Personal Protective Equipment
Flame-retardant clothing that protects against the risks of open fire and high temperatures. The obtain those protective qualities through the finishing, selection and composition of the fabric. That way, the clothes themselves won’t catch fire and the employees don’t get injured. Types of products:
- (Standardized) overalls that cover the body, (different levels of certification possible)
- Leather welding coats
- Leather welding pants
- Welding sleeves
Safety standards standardized clothes:
- EN ISO 11611: this standard includes many standards for welding clothes, involving clothes that can be work all day (eight hours) at normal temperatures and that protects against small spatter of molten metal, accidental flame contact and UV radiation. This standard has replaced EN 470-1 and these clothes often also meet the requirements of EN ISO 11612.
- EN ISO 11612: the wearer is protected against short contacts with flames, as well as (to a certain extent), against convective and radiation heat. It is the successor of EN 531.
- EN13034: Type 6 clothing that offers a limited protection against small spatter or a light mist of chemical substances.
Head and face protection
Your face is almost always aimed at your work. That is why it is essential to protect your face from sparks, sharp materials and/or radiation heat.
- Facial screens
- Welding helmet with motor unit for fresh air
- Monkhood: a flame-retardant hood that protects face and throat against flames and sparks
- Goggles (for colleagues on the work floor)
- Welding helmets: to be combined with breathing protection (overpressure).
- Grinding helmets: to be combined with breathing protection (overpressure).
During combustion, toxic fumes and dust are released. It is essential to protect the airways.
Hands are often the first to come into contact with the hot object (work, tools, etc.), so it is essential to protect your hands. In particular completely leather gloves, because they are fire-retardant and reasonably heat resistant.
- Welding gloves
- HHeat-resistant gloves to prevent burns from contact heat
- GAluminized hand protection (overgloves) for very high temperatures.
Often, an S3- standardization with a rubber or dual soul. These are resistant against floors until about 150 degrees Centigrade.
For very hot surfaces, we provide special shoes, boots and offshore boots, which have higher clasps, so that the instep and ankle are better protected. It is important to wear your pants over your boots, to prevent hot particles from falling in.
Employees working with fire, sparks and weld spatter, have to know what they are doing, because each spark can cause an accident.
In addition, the work position or posture of employees also plays an important role: grinders or welders sometimes have to assume the most impossible postures, so when there is an incident, it is very hard for them to help themselves. In industry, shipbuilding and construction, people work at different heights, so it is possible that someone above you is grinding, and you can be exposed to sparks unexpectedly.
So assessing risks is not just a task of production managers or safety experts. Employees also play an important role, by assessing their own work areas in LMRA or taking part in TRA.
Mapping risks, taking measures, instructions, PPG and supervision are all the employer’s responsibility4. The employee is obliged to attend training courses, follow instructions and report unsafe situations5. Create awareness and motivation for a safe working environment. In other words, a safety culture.
How do we encourage protection?
Sometimes, there is resistance against the use of PPG. Why? Because it is uncomfortable, tiresome and hot. In addition, employees are increasingly demanding about how their work clothes look.
The aspect of comfort
The first objection can be countered by using more comfortable PPG. Not everyone has to wear the highest protection all the time. By matching the protection to the risks, you allow people to wear lighter overalls or PPG.
When selecting PPG, user comfort has to be taken into account. By involving employees in testing different options, it is easier to determine what you have to take into consideration. Always take criticism from testing or working environments seriously. By involving employees, we often see they are more motivated when it comes to wearing PPG.
The aspect of looks
As far as looks are concerned, there are more options that ever before. While there used to be a limited number of overalls to choose from, these days, they come in all types and colors. Think of the new Robust line, with its modern look and feel. In addition, it can be personalized, with things like names and logos.
Rules and rule enforcement
Rules can provide clarity, through signs, marking, instructions and information. Rule enforcement is also important, to make sure the rules are followed. And most importantly: make sure to set the right example, so your people know they need to take it seriously.
Our PPG are focused on adopting an integral approach to PPG. For instance, welding overalls wear out more quickly with these kinds of heavy overalls. If we combine them with welding blankets or other kinds of protection, that will increase their lifespan. The same applies to breathing protection. Without ventilation, filters will quickly be saturated.
The RI&E can help our PPG advisors to get a good idea of the risks, on the basis of which we can provide a suitable PPG or clothing package. We always look at the comfort element as well, since we work in a large variety of work areas. It is that experience with risk and personal protection that we are happy to share with you and your employees, to which end we provide a number of services: