How Poor Air Quality from Welding Fumes Harms Workers and Shop Productivity

November 2023

Fumes generated during welding processes destroy air quality if not properly controlled. Dust collection systems need to be designed for the specific types of metals being welded and the regulations for permissible exposure limits and minimize hazards.

Controlling fumes generated during welding is of utmost importance to safeguard employee health and maintain efficient operation. Fume clouds are primarily composed of PM1 and PM2.5 dust particles, so they are controlled using a dust collector. Inhaling these fine particulates can lead to severe health issues, while their infiltration into machinery and electronics can lead to equipment malfunction. This article explores the critical aspects of designing and maintaining a robust dust collection system, focusing on employee well-being and operational excellence.

Preventing Hazards

Welding metals can cause a fire risk due to the flammable and potentially harmful nature of metal fumes. To prevent this, dust collectors should be equipped with several safety features:

Smoke Detector with Interlock: This can shut down the fan if smoke is detected.

Sprinkler System: Helps in putting out fires if they occur.

Spark Arrestor on the Ducting: Catches sparks, but it's vital to recognize that this alone can't completely prevent a fire.

Flame-Retardant Filter Media: Minimizes fire risk, but combustible dust might still cause these materials to burn.

Compliance with the specific regulations NFPA standards 652 and 484 is also essential for places producing combustible dust. These standards require a combustible dust hazard analysis (DHA) to evaluate the risk and define the necessary protections.

A detailed DHA must consider all components, such as the process machinery, dust collector, and more. It needs to be conducted by an engineer who knows the welding process and has support from a dust collection equipment supplier.

Maintaining Air Quality

The health risks linked to PM1 and PM2.5 particles vary depending on the materials used in welding, such as mild steel, aluminum, and galvanized metals. A thorough review, beginning with the Material Safety Data Sheet (MSDS), helps to pinpoint specific health dangers.

Adhering to the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) guidelines is crucial. The permissible exposure limits (PELs) defined by OSHA, and found in the PEL tables, set the filtration efficiency standards for each dust collector. Be sure to focus on elements such as iron oxide, lead oxide, hex chrome, zinc, manganese, nickel, chromium, respirable dust, and total particulate.

Facilities that exhaust visible fumes outdoors must follow the monitoring requirements as per the EPA National Emission Standard for Hazardous Air Pollutants (NESHAP) Rule 6x. This rule applies specifically to materials containing certain levels of manganese, cadmium, chromium, lead, or nickel.

Dust and Fume Collector Design

An effective collection system should capture particles right at the source, then transport them through ducts to be filtered by a dust collector. It's vital to get the sizing right to avoid risks related to combustible dusts.

If a dust collector is undersized to save money, it can hinder airflow and suction. This can result in a dangerous buildup of combustible dust within the ducting. The correct sizing depends on various factors, including the power used in welding, the materials involved, automation of material handling, the size of the equipment, and the hours of operation.

Other important considerations in the design are:

Protecting Linear Scales: Ensuring they are shielded from dust.

Noise Control: Implementing exhaust silencers to minimize noise.

Fire and Explosion Prevention: This might necessitate the use of flame-retardant filters and vertically mounted filter cartridges.

Air Recirculation: When recirculating air back into the facility, integrated safety monitoring filters (iSMFs) are recommended.

By paying attention to these details, a dust and fume collection system can be both effective and safe.

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Maintaining Dust and Fume Collectors

Keeping your dust collection system running smoothly requires consistent maintenance, including the upkeep of filters, adjustments to the collector's location and dampers, and routine dust removal.

Filter Maintenance: A properly constructed and sized fume collector requires minimal upkeep. As filters wear, operators must adjust the pulse-cleaning pressure settings to maintain performance. It's vital to replace filters when the differential pressure reaches the filter manufacturer's maximum level. This proactive step ensures effective control of dust and fumes, fostering a clean and safe workspace.

Collector Location: Most welding shops choose plug-and-play solutions for an economical start. These are usually placed indoors, but you can maximize space by selecting a design that allows for operation and maintenance from the front or one side. This option makes placement in tight spots easier (such as tight corners or between columns) and ensures that filters can be changed quickly without tools.

Indoor vs. Outdoor Collectors: Indoor collectors are initially more affordable, but outdoor versions offer benefits such as heavy-duty construction and suitability for harsh climates. An outdoor collector not only conserves factory space but also reduces noise, aligning with long-term safety and efficiency objectives. High-quality outdoor collectors incorporate features like totally enclosed fan-cooled (TEFC) motors and heavy-duty powder-coated paint.

Damper Adjustments: The proper adjustment of dampers is key to optimizing airflow. Fans are usually designed to supply recommended airflow when the filter is dirty or at its life's end. But with clean filters, the initial startup pressure is low, leading to excess airflow. By adjusting the damper at startup, you can conserve energy and prevent premature filter clogging. Leaving the damper open might cause the fan to pull more air than intended, affecting efficiency.

Dust Removal: Regular cleaning of the dust collected is a simple yet often overlooked maintenance task. Neglected dust can accumulate over the top of the storage drum and back up into the system, causing malfunctions, or creating a mess and fire hazard when drums are moved. Regular cleaning of the storage drum helps to prevent these issues and maintain a safe working environment.

Final Thoughts

A high-efficiency weld fume collection system that is tailored specifically for your needs can greatly minimize workers' exposure to airborne contaminants produced during welding. This leads to a cleaner workspace, enhancing both comfort and morale, and can boost productivity and manufacturing dependability. In addition, a well-designed weld fume collection system will cut down on the risks of hazardous dust, aiding facility managers in meeting regulatory standards.

— Sponsored by CAMFIL —