Managers, supervisors & health and safety professionals
The guidance on this page builds on basic, practical advice in the welders’ pages but has further detail, links to generic guidance and some technical information.
It is very difficult to offer simple guidance solutions for every welding and cutting situation. Consequently the advice below asks questions to which you will need to provide the answers. The answers should help you decide what actions to take. The aim is to develop a practical work process that is safe for your particular situation.
Sometimes the questions aim to make you consider the possibility of completely different ways of working. We understand that often there is only one sensible work method however it is useful to consider if there is a better, safer way to do the job possibly eliminating the risk entirely.
Fume and gases from welding and cutting
- Can the job be designed so there is less hot work (welding, gouging, cutting, etc)?
- Can you use a welding technique that creates less fume? (TIG produces the least fume, MMA and flux cored MAG produce the most);
- Are your welders using the optimum settings? Excessive current and long duty cycles tend to generate more fumes and can affect weld quality;
- Have you optimised your shielding gas so you get the lowest fume emissions? The best gas for the job is not necessarily the cheapest. Additional cost of premium gases may be offset by labour savings due to increased production speed;
- Can you remove oil, dirt, paint and surface platings? They usually increase the amount of fume and sometimes add very toxic chemicals to the welding fume. Hot work on cadmium plating, lead or chromate paints is particularly hazardous.
Make it possible for the welder to work so they don’t breathe in the fume cloud:
- Can the welder work in a position where they are not directly breathing in the fume cloud? Considerations include:
- provide more space around the work piece or;
- provide turn tables and other devices to manipulate the work piece or
- planning the welding sequence differently.
The simple act of working with the head out of the rising plume of fume can significantly reduce the amount of fume you breathe. Less fume = less risk;
- Do you need to use fume extraction, additional ventilation or a filtering face mask. If you do make sure it’s used properly. When used properly LEV does not affect the quality of welds;
- Do you need to provide respiratory protective equipment (RPE)? If you do, have you provided the right type?
- FFP3 dust masks are relatively cheap and can offer reasonable protection for short jobs;
- One size does not fit all. See the RPE webpage for advice on fit testing;
- Powered filtering welding visors are initially more expensive but may work out cheaper than disposable RPE in the long run. They are suitable when it is not practical to use extraction or when welding for long periods of time (eg more that 2 hours).
Check the fume control systems are working properly:
- Do you carry out routine maintenance on your fume extraction equipment and non-disposable RPE? Common faults include blocked filters, split or crushed ductwork, faulty valves;
- Do you get your welding fume extraction systems thoroughly examined by a competent person at least every 14 months? This is a legal requirement;
- Do you check that non-disposable filtering masks/ welding visors remain in good condition? There is no specific time period for checks. You will need to set an appropriate schedule taking into account the manufacturers recommendations, the amount of use and the environment the respirator is used in. Monthly checks would be normal practice. 3 monthly for respirators used less often.
For further information on welding fume see the health topics pages. Generic guidance is also available at the HSE LEV webpages and RPE webpages.
Preventing fire and explosion
- Are there arrangements to ensure a good standard of housekeeping? This will help prevent fires starting and limit their spread if they do occur;
- Are there clear instructions to clear away wood, fabric, cardboard and other flammable material from the area before starting hot work? Remember that the heat, sparks, drips of metal and slag can travel a considerable distance and can start fires in adjacent areas;
- Are special precautions used when the consequences of a fire are likely to be severe? This is normally done using a permit to work system;
- Have you considered the need to assign a person to act as a fire watcher? They should remain on watch for at least 30 minutes after the hot work finishes. Their job is to raise the alarm if a fire starts in a place that is not obvious to others.
For further information see the Welding - Preventing fire and explosion pages. For more detailed generic information see the HSE fire and explosion pages. The publication Safe maintenance, repair and cleaning procedures - L137 has details on permit to work systems. The HSE book Guidance on permit to work systems is aimed at the petro-chemical industry but the principles can be applied to any industry sector.
Hot work on tanks and drums that may have had flammable liquids in them
- Do you ensure the drum is empty and has been properly cleaned inside? Free HSE guidance Hot work on drums and tanks gives a simple description of the safe way to do this work;
- Do you know what you can do if it’s not practical to empty and clean the drum or tank? You can reduce the chances of igniting flammable residues by filling the tanks with water, foam or inert gas. Inerting techniques bring additional safety hazards (asphyxiation hazard) and will require careful planning, supervision and management.
A 24 yr old Scottish man was using a plasma cutter to remove the lid from an old oil drum. As he started to cut through the metal, it generated a shower of sparks which ignited the flammable vapours inside the drum. The drum exploded. He was airlifted to hospital but died the following morning. His employer was prosecuted and fined £15000. See the press release for more details.
Carriage of an Oxy/acetylene (or Oxygen/LPG) burning set in vans
- It is preferable to use an open backed van (eg pick up) to carry gas cylinders so that if there is a gas leak it will quickly disperse. Although rare, a flammable gas explosion inside a van is extremely serious;
- If you need to use an enclosed van (due to risk of vandalism or for security) make sure the van is fitted with additional ventilation in the load space. The cab heating/demisting ventilation is not sufficient;
- Make sure workers close the main cylinder valve when they are not using it. This is the primary way to prevent a leak and should be a very clear instruction;
- Whenever possible remove cylinders from enclosed vans and store them in a purpose built flammable gas storage facility.
For further information see the Welding - Preventing fire and explosion pages and the specific page on small scale carriage of flammable gases. Generic guidance is also available at the HSE fire and explosion web pages.
Lack of oxygen in confined spaces
Use of inert gases and some common chemical reactions (eg rusting) can reduce the amount of oxygen inside enclosed spaces such as tanks, pipes and pits.
Working in these locations is dangerous and should be planned properly. Poorly planned work in confined spaces can result in multiple deaths.
- Consider if there a way to do the job without sending people in to the space;
- If people have to go in, devise a safe system of work and ensure the workers follow it;
- Make sure there is an emergency rescue plan and that workers are trained in how to respond to an emergency. An emergency plan that relies wholly on the attendance of the local fire and rescue service is unlikely to be suitable;
- Use of oxygen supplies to increase the oxygen content of the air (‘sweeten’ the air) gives rise to a very serious fire risk and should be prohibited;
For further information see the welding confined spaces web page and the specific guidance document Confined spaces: A brief guide to working safely. Generic guidance is also available at the HSE confined spaces web pages. The publication, Safe maintenance, repair and cleaning procedures - L137 has details on permit to work systems. The HSE book Guidance on permit to work systems is aimed at the petro-chemical industry but the principles can be applied to any industry sector.
Noise and vibration
Noise induced hearing loss is a common insurance claim against employers. TIG is a relatively quiet arc welding process and does not normally generate harmful levels of noise. The other electric arc welding processes (flux core, MMA, MAG, etc) do generate harmful levels of noise. However welders often need to use grinders, scalers, arc gougers and other tools that can generate significant amounts of noise and vibration. As the manager you can:
- Try to design or arrange the work so that there is the minimum amount of grinding, gouging, and scaling;
- ‘Buy Quiet’ - When buying or hiring tools, consider the stated noise and vibration emission levels;
- Encourage workers to get it right first time. Rework is costly and usually adds to the noise and vibration exposure levels;
- Maintain the tools in good condition;
- well maintained tools produce less harmful vibration than poorly maintained ones;
- worn out grinding discs, blunt drill bits, chisels etc usually produce more vibration than sharp ones;
- Train and inform the welders in what you want from them and why;
- Keeping hands warm helps prevent hand-arm vibration problems. Make sure welders, particularly onsite welders have access to dry gloves or facilities to dry their PPE if necessary.
It is likely that you will have to provide hearing protection to your workers who weld;
- Make sure that hearing protection is compatible with welding visors and other PPE that your welders wear;
- Make sure they wear it properly and it’s comfortable. Comfort is important. Comfortable PPE means you’ll have less trouble getting people to wear it.
For further information see the noise and vibration page or the generic HSE noise web pages and vibration pages.
- Maintain the welding equipment. Damage to the insulation on the welding cables, plugs, clamps or torch/ electrode holder is common;
- Provide sufficient PPE so that welders can use clean, dry gloves and overalls. Site workers may need a place to dry wet PPE. Welding overalls and gloves are not normally designed to be electrically insulating, however if it’s clean and dry, it will normally provide some protection;
- When welding on a metal workbench it is normal to attach the current return clamp to frame of the bench. For onsite welding or welding larger structures you may need to plan the current return path to prevent hazards from stray electrical currents.
For further information see the welding electrical hazards page. Generic guidance is also available at the HSE Electrical safety web pages.