Air quality concerns in general fabrication originate in common processes such as cutting, machining and welding. As any floor manager knows, dust and fumes can create serious challenges for worker health, plant cleanliness and regulatory compliance.
Welding, in particular, presents serious health concerns, since many weld fumes contain toxic metals. The extreme heat involved in welding creates fumes with metal particulates less than a micrometer in diameter. When toxic particulates are inhaled, their small size allows them to travel deep into the lungs and be absorbed into the body. Hexavalent chromium is a good example of a commonly produced and dangerous weld fume particulate. This substance is a known carcinogen. Without a fume collection system in place, workers are at risk throughout an entire facility.
Besides the pressing concern of worker health, worker recruitment and retention should be on manufacturers’ minds, as well. The American Welding Society estimates that manufacturing will see a shortfall of 290,000 skilled welders by 2020. Recruiting and retaining the best workers will become more and more challenging in the near future. A healthy, clean and attractive workplace free from haze and hazards is crucial.
Fires and explosions are other serious concerns for general fabrication operations. The Bureau of Labor Statistics estimates that these events cause about 3% of workplace fatalities. Cutting tables and other such equipment produce dust which can be combustible. A dust collection system can prevent a buildup of dust, and a spark arrestance system can further safeguard a facility from dangerous fires and explosions.
Complying with federal regulations on air quality is another mandate for a general fabrication operation. The Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) sets these standards to ensure workers have clean air and a safe workplace. For example, welding facilities must comply with air contaminant requirements that address permissible exposure limits (PELs) for specific toxic substances, such as inhalable manganese and hexavalent chromium. Failure to comply with these regulations can lead to serious fines.