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Chromium and Nickel in Welding Fumes

  1. Compare and contrast the AWS recommendations for controlling exposure to chromium and nickel welding fumes with those of other organizations

            The American Welding Society only lists four measures to take to control exposure to chromium and nickel welding fumes that are a result of welding stainless steel, arc welding, painting and pigment application, electroplating and other surface coating processes. The measures include the obvious warning: “Do not breathe fumes and gases. Keep your head out of the fumes,” as well as the other apparent measures of making sure the ventilation system is in proper working order, ventilating the area, and keeping exposure to a minimum.  Of course, their agenda is to promote welding, not emphasize the danger of it.

            Other people and entities with their own agenda weigh in on the matter too. Ed Ravert, a senior application engineer for United Air Specialists, Inc., a company who makes ventilation systems, has another opinion. He believes the amount of chromium in the fumes must first be calculated, and then the welder must wear a “personal respiratory protection at all times. The source capture system combined with a cartridge collector is the only viable way to deal with stainless weld fumes. Even then, and if the air is to be returned into the workplace, a monitored safety HEPA after filter should be used” (Ravert, 2011). While Ravert’s information is more recent, and he refers several times to new OSHA regulations, one must still keep in mind that he works for a company who sells all of the devices that he recommends.

            Lincoln Electric offers five more suggests helping minimize the danger of chromium and nickel welding fumes.  The most radical of their suggestions is to “change the welding application to reduce the amount of fume generated”. One specific alteration they recommend is to “change the manufacturing process to an automated or robot work cell which allows the station to be enclosed and fume contained and efficiently removed. Like the other sources above suggest, Lincoln Electric also recommends installing an exhaust ventilation system. Another common indication is to improve the work practices of welders and others who may be affected by chromium fumes. Finally, Lincoln Electric suggests using respirators, protective clothing, and thorough washing after exposure and at shift’s end (Lincoln Electric, 2008).  Lincoln Electric like United Air Specialists, Inc. make money from selling protective gear and ventilation systems or the installation thereof to welding companies.

            The Texas Department of Insurance and the Division of Workers’ Compensation also have an ulterior motive for publishing their welding standards, but hopefully it is to protect workers and prevent injuries rather than to make a buck off of the regulations. They offer ten suggestions, most of them aimed generally at preventing all types of welding fume hazard. The TDI/DWC suggestions include some already mentioned, but also “Don’t weld painted or coated parts. . . . . Use a water table under the plasma arc cutting to reduce fume and noise levels.  Grind parts instead of air arcing. Use the sub arc process to minimize light and fumes created by a visible arc . . . . You can minimize the production of welding fumes by using the lowest acceptable amperage and holding the electrode perpendicular and as close to the work surface and possible”. The TDI/DWC also recommends that welders wear protective clothing and boots as well as ventilation masks or a personal respiratory device.

  1. If you were the safety professional reviewing the hazards for manual welding involving exposure to these substances, what controls would you establish?

I would require the most stringent safety controls if I were the safety professional reviewing the hazards if manual welding that involves exposure to chromium, nickel, thorium, or any other sketchy substance welders and other may be exposed to. Perhaps using standards more like the TDI/DWC recommend would be more than necessary for workers’ safety, but they would be safe. If I used too low of standards, they might be dead or racked with cancer or some other horrible malady. Not only that, then the company gets sued and/or fined for not practicing adequate safety measures. It is not worth the cost in human life to shirk when it comes to safety