The Hazards of Welding Stainless Steel

 Stainless Steel Welding Fumes

The Hazards of Welding Stainless Steel

Due to its versatility and durability stainless steel is used extensively in many manufacturing applications, particularly in the construction and motor industry often requires stainless steel to be welded together. However, welding stainless steel has been proved to be hazardous for human health because of the carcinogenic fumes that are produced whilst welding it.

The production of stainless steel requires the use of chromate chemicals which leave traces in the final product, and during welding, the chromate chemicals convert into “Hexavalent Chromium” compounds. These compounds are highly toxic and have the potential to cause cancer. Different manufacturers use different chromate chemicals or compounds; therefore, most stainless steel produces chromium compound fumes.

Effects of Hexavalent Chromium Compound Fumes

Chromium fumes are a known human carcinogen which makes most welders at risk of developing cancer. Traditionally stainless steel is welded by Tig welding (Tungsten Inert Gas) however Mig welding (Metal Inert Gas) method is becoming a common means to weld stainless steel and generally produces a lot of visible fumes during the welding process. FCAW & MMA welding processes tend to produce highly visable fume content as well.

Tig welding by contrast generally does not produce as much visible fume as mig welding but nonetheless it is in no way less hazardous in fact often worse as the visable effect of welding fume is much less. TIG welding produces the least amount of visable fume but it does produce significant amounts of ozone and nitrous oxide both of which are also irritants. 

As a result welders can tend not to be as careful enough when they weld stainless steel, thereby exposing themselves to unseen welding fume carcinogens. The large amounts of chromium fumes they inhale or come into contact with can lead to several diseases, including the following:

  • Lung, Nasal or Sinus Cancer
  • Nasal & Respiratory Irritation
  • Pulmonary Congestion
  • Eye Damage
  • Organ Damage
  • Occupational Asthma
  • Skin Irritation
  • Nose Bleed

These diseases and health concerns can be extensive or difficult to treat, anyone affected may become severely debilitated as a result of not taking adequate measures of control, and they may need to take lengthy time off to recuperate with the risk losing out permanently on health or income and the ability to work. Any business will suffer as a result not respecting that there is a duty of care to themselves and their employees.  

 It is imperative to ensure that all welders understand the consequences of welding stainless steel without protective measures so that they are proactive in protecting themselves and their co-workers. Be aware of the risks, with today's technology there is no longer any excuse for ignorance. Safety has priority. 

How to Take Precautions When Welding

Protective Gear

The most common method for workers is to wear protective gear, covering themselves from head to toe. The main elements of Personal Protective Equipment (PPE) for welders are protective welding jackets, welding helmets, respirators, ear protection, boots, and gloves.

A welding helmet is absolutely essential to protect welders from inhaling carcinogenic fumes and sparks during welding. Welders must have a respirator or better still a PAPR (Powered Air Purifying Respirator) welding helmet such a Speedglas or RPB system to avoid inhaling welding fumes. Any ventilator should be well fitting so that no fumes can penetrate. RPB Z4 Welding Helmet is especially designed to allow for facial hair. (Did you know that facial hair growth from a single shift could be enough to break the seal of a tight-fitting respirator?)

However convenient and easy PPE is to wear it must be noted that in the Hierarchy of Risk Management that PPE is step number five and the LEAST EFFECTIVE form of control.

Hierarchy of Risk

Extraction Torch

The most effective form of control in welding stainless steel is step number 1 which is elimination, remove the issue at the source is the most effective fume control measure. Fume extraction torches provide the step number one measure (MOST EFFECTIVE) by reducing the welder’s exposure to welding fumes by at least 90 to 95% at the arc source. Their development began in the 1970s, but soon acquired a negative reputation due to the ergonomics of the earlier torches being much heavier and very rigid leading to the loss of productivity also the suction of the shielding gas by the capture device causing weld porosities and insufficient capture efficiency.

Recent developments however namely with Sumig branded torches have done a lot to remove these negatives with a lighter and more flexible mig torch that is extremely effective in removing  fumes at the source of the risk. Alphaweld has extensively site tested and demonstrated these torches in conjunction with an Allclear Portable Extraction System and is proud to be able to offer these as a premium step number 1 control measure. They effectively removed the fumes quickly without affecting the shielding gas and operator control was easy. The cost of purchasing this extraction torch package is well worth the outlay to help protect any welder from associated health conditions in welding stainless steel.

 

Contact the team at Alphaweld to find out more about this first step in risk control.