One of the largest dangers welders face is inadequate ventilation. Ventilation is something that everyone knows is important but many forget about. Dangers such as fires are usually what gets most of the attention, but ventilation is just as important a topic as fires are. In fact, improper ventilation can actually lead to an explosion if flammable gases build up while welding is being done.
Welding should never occur in a confined space, but if there is no other choice, then it is important that welders wear the right hose masks or air-supplied respirators to ensure that the gases in the room do not make them sick. Welders are at risk of breathing in toxic materials, working in a cloud of combustible gas, or even oxygen deficiency. It is important that no welder is left alone in a confined area while working because if something does go wrong, it may take a long time before someone notices.
There are certain requirements in arc and gas welding and cutting that dictate how much contamination a welder can be exposed to from the air around them. These factors are: how many welders are in the room; the hazardous gases, fumes, or dust that can develop based on the metals that are being worked with; the size of the area (including how high the ceiling is); and where the welders' breathing zones are located compared to the rising fumes. Sometimes other factors also come into play depending on the specific situation, such as the generated heat, atmospheric conditions, and whether there are volatile solvents.
In large businesses where welding and cutting is performed, safety precautions about ventilation is the responsibility of the safety inspector and of the industrial hygienist. They are responsible for ensuring that all welders are working under safe conditions and that they have access to the proper ventilation equipment. They are also responsible for sampling the air and ensuring that the concentrations of toxic substances are below the required levels.
If a welder does not work in a business where someone is responsible for ventilation safety, and instead has their own shop or works in their garage as a hobbyist, it falls to the welder to ensure that the air they breathe is as safe as possible. It is very important that someone knows the welder is working and if there is no one, that the welder takes every possible precaution to avoid any problems that may come from gases.
Mechanical ventilation is required if the welding space is less than 10,000 cubic feet per welder, if the ceiling is less than 16 feet high, or if the work is being done in a confined space. This type of ventilation is also required if the welder is to work in areas such as a balcony, partition, or any other space where there may be structural barriers that will prevent cross ventilation. Mechanical ventilation can be done using hoods or ducts that are near the welder and will keep air moving and provide the welder with safe air. Some welding is done in a fixed enclosure where exhaust systems are used to keep air flowing.
Ventilation can present a serious problem when welding in a confined space. Toxic gases can quickly build up in confined spaces and replace the oxygen that a welder breathes. Airline respirators can be useful for welders and assistants who must work in confined spaces as can self-contained units. Sometimes welders think they can simply add oxygen to the room to keep it from being replced by toxic gases. Not only will this method not work, but it can lead to a deady explosion as oxygen is a highly combustible gas.
There is also the option of a PAPR welding helmet. This will give you the best personal protection from fumes. Take a look at all of our options for PAPR helmets.