The optimal air quality solution for manual welding stations is source capture equipment of some kind. This equipment is more effective than ambient capture units at pulling welding fumes away from a worker’s breathing zone. There are many options available, including:
- Backflow/crossflow tables: The RoboVent CrossFlow table is a good example of an easy-to-use welding bench that captures fumes and protects workers. These tables combine a welding work surface with built-in fume extraction that continually pulls weld fumes away from the welder’s face.
- Fume guns: For situations where the welder needs to move around or where the weldment is too large to fit on a welding bench, a fume gun is an excellent source capture solution. When used properly, the best fume guns can collect up to 95% of weld fumes.
- Fume arms or extension booms: Fume arms are positioned over the weld seam to pull weld fumes away from the welder’s face and collect them as they rise. These can be attached to a centralized, ducted system or to a small portable dust collector. Keep in mind that fume arms must be positioned directly over the weld seam to work; for large weldments, this may mean repositioning the fume arm as the welder moves.
If a source capture solution is not possible in a facility, an ambient capture system can help to mitigate fumes throughout the entire facility. Keep in mind that ambient systems do not keep weld fumes out of a welder’s breathing zone. If exposure levels are above OSHA permissible exposure limits (PELs), they must wear personal protective equipment (PPE) to limit their exposure.
OSHA standards lay out the order in which employers should address air quality challenges. First, engineering controls should be attempted. This includes looking at substitutions and other methods of cutting the source of weld fumes. For example, shifting from flux-core wire to solid wire can significantly reduce weld fumes. Next, their rules suggest implementing dust collection equipment, if further measures are needed. Personal protective equipment is always a last resort, in the eyes of OSHA.