Talking Safety

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Shop Metalworking Technology discusses welding safety with Dave Hisey

Dave Hisey is the welding health and safety advisor for the CWB Group. He currently chairs two CSA welding groups and is the Canadian delegate to the International Institute of Welding Health, Safety and Environment (HSE). In 2014, he won the Award of Merit from the Canadian Standards Association for his advancement of safety standards in the use of welding equipment. 

What do welders need to know about the dangers of welding fumes?  
The working group at the 2017 conference of the International Agency for Cancer Research (IARC) evaluated carcinogenic risks to humans and determined that all welding fumes are carcinogenic to humans. This was stated in their publication IARC Vol. 118 Monograph. That’s an upgrade from a 1989 classification of fumes as possibly carcinogenic to humans. They also evaluated for the first-time ultraviolet radiation from welding and classified it as carcinogenic to humans. A Canadian study published in 2017 reported that ocular melanoma was a cancer noted in Canadian welders. With auto-darkening lens welding helmets, it is to be hoped this difficult to detect cancer shows a decrease. So, when we think about hazards to our health, it is not only welding fumes that we need to consider. A good Canadian web site for information on workplace carcinogens is

What has changed with welding shop regulations in Canada?
I chair the technical committee for CSA W117.2-19 safety in welding cutting and allied processes. We have published a new edition with significant changes.

Some Canadian jurisdictions are getting closer to using current American Conference of Industrial Hygienist (ACGIH) occupational exposure limit (OELs) values. Since 2014 Manitoba has not published values and refers to the current ACGIH values. Three other provinces follow ACGIH closely. At the time, many in the welding community thought they would have to close up shop and leave Manitoba. In 2017, at a Canadian Welding Association (CWA) meeting in Winnipeg, I learned how industry had stepped up to the plate, meeting the new regs and still thriving. This was not without some difficulty. Tighter regulations bring new costs.

Europe is struggling with the issue of lowering (OELs) values and has looked at how Canada is meeting the requirements. Japan has also looked at becoming ACGIH compliant, but as yet has not. 

I attended the IIW conference in Bratislava, Slovakia in July 2019 and listened to what the countries in attendance are doing for welding safety. I look forward to that discussion as each country explains the safety improvements being made in their welding industry. Change is becoming measurable, but some countries are struggling. Many of the HSE presentations and much of the discussion in this commission centred on how to deal with the IARC Vol 118 Monograph declaration. 

I am excited about the improvement in welding safety. We need to continue to improve workplace health and safety to entice young people to work in our nation’s trades. 

The CWB Group has taken a  major role ensuring we have sufficient welders coming into our work force to replace those retiring and that we meet the needs of welding industry growth. The Mind Over Metal camps it provides target youth ages 12-15; 68 camps ran successfully across Canada in the 2018/19 year. Seven different research projects were funded at post-secondary institutions, including University of Waterloo, University of Alberta and Seneca College, which teaches the underwater welding program.

CSA W117.2 2019 edition is now available. What are the two most significant changes?
Electrode shock and implementation of a clothing and a footwear standard.

Electrode shock: CSA W117.2-19 mandates the use of a voltage-reducing device that lowers the no-load or open circuit voltage of a welding machine to 12 volts or less when welding occurs in an environment with an increased risk of electric shock with defined conditions. Environments with an increased risk of electric shock could include:

  • environments in which freedom of movement is restricted, forcing an operator to weld in a cramped position with physical contact with conductive parts;
  • locations limited by metallic or other conductive elements and where there is a high probability of unavoidable or accidental contact by the operators;
  • in wet, damp or hot locations where humidity or perspiration reduces the skin resistance of the human body and the insulating properties of accessories.

A welder changing electrodes in a hot or wet environment, sitting on the steel he/she is welding, or the return current lead is connected to, is a perfect candidate to die from welding electrode shock. This exact situation ended the life of an Ontario welder on June 25, 2014 – this can happen to you. 

In a survey completed in 2018, 90 per cent of welders felt it was their duty to weld in the rain when wet. Some welding supervisors felt it was their responsibility to force their welders to weld in the rain without protection to keep them dry. 

In a discussion with several jurisdictional authorities from across Canada, all said they would hold that supervisor criminally responsible, should a fatality occur. 

Think about that next time you permit your welders to work in the rain in the open. 

Clothing and footwear standard: 
Protective clothing: Soiled clothing will need to be replaced immediately and approved clothing should completely cover the welder’s body. Fabric should be tested in accordance with ISO 11611, Class 1 for light welding or Class 2 for heavier welding. The standard now includes selection criteria for clothing for use in welding and allied processes.

 Classification: Clothing should carry a label noting Class 1 or Class 2 protection.

Gloves for welding: Properly designed gloves for welding processes must be worn for manual metal welding, cutting and allied processes. 

Protective footwear: Protective footwear meeting the requirements of CSA Z195 Grade 1 (green-patch) and meeting the electric shock resistance (ESR – Ω) requirements must be worn for welding and cutting operations; have a minimum height (or cut) of 150 mm (6 in.), and metatarsal protection must be incorporated into the protective footwear.

As an accident incident investigator for more than 12 years, I witnessed the hazards of personal clothing fires and severe electrode shock from welding machines. I am proud to have been the chair of this technical committee when these changes were implemented.

What has changed in the welding shop when compared to a decade ago?
Probably the biggest change has been the reduction in OEL’s and the enforcement of those standards. When I first went to Fort McMurray to work in the mining industry in 1977, one of our main contract welding shops was easy to find in town as one just looked for the welding fumes pouring out of the open door of the building. It was still easy to find when closed for a holiday as welding smoke was visible all over the front of the building.

Industry changed and when I retired, welding shops were clean and easy to see across in the middle of the workday. In 2006 I remember someone passing on a photo of a welder working in a car plant in Europe; the automotive plant was extremely clean, as was the air, but the welder was wearing a full hood and remote air supply. We still have a ways to go in Canada, but we are on the right track.

Thankfully, research has been completed, papers have been written and presented, and recommendations have been implemented. We have learned that welders do not need to die of lung cancer, nor die of electrode shock. 

Systems like the Hierarchy of Controls (at right) have been developed and implemented; even in the welding industry we can eliminate and substitute through the use of engineered changes. Sometimes, regulations and standards have forced this elimination – Beryllium is a good example of an element which has been eliminated from the welding process due to regulations.

What advice to you have for welding shops that understand safety is a priority but need to stay within a budget?
I can’t stress enough that management of elemental welding fumes in either a multi-purpose factory or a welding shop is critical. Dealing with multi-purpose and multi-weld processes with hexavalent chromium compounds (Cr VI) of current ACGIH TWA levels of .0002 mg/m3  and manganese (Mn) TWA of 0.02mg/m3 requires a knowledgeable and competent ventilation system designer and maintainer. Yes, all welding air handling systems have a significant maintenance process and associated maintenance cost component. The result must be monitored by an industrial hygienist or monitoring agency. As a shop owner you want to be able to prove compliance.

Canada is a cold climate; welding shops must be intelligent in the design and utilization of their ventilation and air purification systems to control costs. Portable and general purification/ventilation systems all must be on a regular maintenance program. 

Healthy welders, comfortable and happy in their work environment knowing their company cares about them, has proven to result in more hours on arc. That is your cost recovery.

The ventilation system is just another process in your welding shop that requires the same attention to detail as the most difficult WPS. 

What are some best practices to help welders protect themselves?
Ensure you wear good quality gloves designed for the purpose. Always back off your regulators prior to energizing the oxy-fuel gas system. Don’t drive your mobile welding rig with the regulators installed as they will break off and become a deadly fire in a vehicular accident. Installing oxy/acetylene cylinders in an enclosed cabinet on a mobile rig is no different than building a bomb. The cabinet will not naturally ventilate as suggested in one jurisdiction’s regulations. CSA W117.2 -19 Annex G describes the safe requirements for welding services provided from vehicles.

CSA W117.2-19 is the best practice for Canadian welders. It is designed for the Canadian environment. If you would like to become a part of this great committee, please contact me at [email protected] SMT

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