The Right Protective Measures
Welding is the process of forging together metals with the use of intense heat. If fumes are emitted during the process they can be inhaled which will lead to the development of an illness over time. This is the main cause of welding related illnesses. Welding is a very high-risk activity but accidents can be prevented if the right protective measures are put in place. Welders should ensure that they have all of the right equipment needed to carry out their job correctly and safely. It is an employer’s responsibility to ensure that each employee has been given the correct training and protective equipment in order to ensure their health and safety in the workplace. Welders should be provided with the right clothing, gloves and mask to ensure that the chances of inhaling harmful fumes are reduced.
Types of Welding
There are several different types of welding all used for different metals and each come with its own set of accident risks if not used correctly or if the employer has not given correct protective equipment and/or training. Some of the most common are:
- Metal Inert Gas (MIG) Welding
- Gas Metal Arc Welding (GMAW)
- Arc Welding
- Submerged Arc Welding (SAW)
- Shielded Metal Arc Welding (SMAW) – aka. Stick Welding
- Tungsten Inert Gas Welding (TIGW)
- Flux-Cored Arc Welding (FCAW)
- Electroslag Welding (ESW)
- Atomic Hydrogen Welding (AHW)
- Carbon Arc Welding (CAW)
- Electrogas Welding (EGW)
Who is Liable?
It can be difficult to determine who is liable for a welding illness or accident at work. In many cases, it will either be the employer or an employee who is at fault.
If an employer does not provide the correct equipment and training and as a result, an accident occurs, then they will be liable for any illness or injury. Employers have a duty of care to ensure the safety of all staff throughout the course of their work. If this is breached there is more risk of accidents. In order for an employer to be seen as liable for an accident in the workplace, it will have to be shown that they acted in a negligent manner and failed to show a reasonable duty of care to their employees.
Employees can also be liable for an accident at work if they have acted in a negligent manner. All staff within a company are required to attend any training provided to them and should ensure that they wear the protective gear supplied by an employer. If an employee acts in an unsafe manner throughout the course of their job then it will be likely that they will be responsible for an accident if one were to happen. If it can be shown that an employer has shown a reasonable duty of care to employees who have acted negligently then it will be the employees who will be seen as liable.
If an illness develops as a result of a manufacturing defect then the company who supplied the equipment will be seen as responsible and liable for the accident and injury.
The type of illness that you can develop as a result of welding depends on the metals which are used. Different metals will emit different toxic fumes which each have different symptoms and illnesses associated with them. The most common illnesses include;
Pneumonia is the name given to the infection that inflames the lungs. Welders are more at risk of developing this illness as they are working with toxic and poisonous fumes. Symptoms develop over a number of weeks and include a headache, fatigue and a cough.
This is a type of pulmonary disease and it is the inflammation of the airways. This leads on to shortness of breath and difficulty breathing. Breathing in hazardous fumes or dust over an extended period of time is a common cause of this.
In Ireland, this is not a very common illness that is associated with welding. Each year, a number of people employed as welders develop asthma but there is not enough evidence to say that this is a direct cause of inhaling fumes. If occupational asthma is developed it usually occurs over a longer period of time as a result of overexposure and inhaling the fumes from certain metals.
Fumes from welding can be seen as a possible carcinogenic to people which can lead to the development of cancer. This is primarily associated with those who work with stainless steel but it is not limited to just these fumes.
Metal Fume Fever
This is an illness that is very similar to the flu. This fever does not have any long-term effects and will disappear naturally over time. Symptoms include nausea, fever and headaches.
Manganese poisoning is a toxic condition which is caused by overexposure to the chemical. This illness affects the central nervous system and kidneys. Manganism is also known as welders Parkinson’s disease. The illness can lead to psychological issues, speech difficulties, poor motor skills and facial movement problems.
Welding can also cause injuries to the face. If a welder is affected by radiation it can lead to burns and eye injuries. This is usually caused by the lack of protective equipment and clothing.
Other Welding Accident Claims
While illness is a serious risk when welding without the correct protective equipment, welding can also cause other types of injuries if not carried out correctly. Other welding injury claim examples are:
For those welding without the correct facial protection, the risk of injury to the face via a burn is increased. The employer is responsible to ensure that their welders are supplied with the correct equipment but the employee is also responsible for using the equipment as it was intended.
Welders are also required to wear certain clothing – for example, leather boots and trousers that fit over the boot – this is to avoid any molten metal from dripping into their shoes. If a welder is wearing the wrong boots, ones that leave a gap open for molten metal to drip into their shoes, it will either be the fault of the employer for not training/providing the correct protective gear or fault of the employee for ignoring the training or refusing to wear the protective gear.
If not provided with or not wearing facial and eye protection while welding, a welder could suffer an eye injury where a welding spark jumps into the welder’s eye. This is avoidable if the welder is provided with and wears protective eye equipment.
For those who have worked with welding for many years may notice that their eyesight has deteriorated. This is due to maintaining focus on the bright lights that are emitted as the sparks are produced during the process. Prolonged exposure to these bright lights can have an effect on a person’s sight in the long term.
Hearing loss or ‘industrial deafness’ is also a risk for welders who have been working with welding for many years. The noise emitted by the welding equipment is generally high and prolonged exposure to this noise could lead to occupational deafness or hearing issues, such as tinnitus. This can be avoided if the welder is wearing protective equipment such as ear protectors. It is the employer’s responsibility to provide the welder with this equipment.
- Lack of training
- Inadequate protective equipment
- Electrical Hazards
- Overexposure to hazardous fumes and gases
What to do after an accident at work*?
Following an accident at work, there are a number of steps you should follow:
Seek medical attention
Your health is your wealth and should be your first priority. Immediately after an accident at work, take a second to assess yourself to determine if you have any injuries and seek the relevant medical attention. If you have sustained a serious injury ensure that you contact an ambulance to attend the scene.
For minor injuries, you must remember that minor injuries where you ‘feel fine’ could progress to more serious injuries in the future. In this case it is always better to be safe than sorry and advisable that you go to your nearest accident and emergency (A&E) or local GP to be checked out.
Report the accident
It is critical to report the accident to your superior, i.e. a supervisor or manager on site. It doesn’t matter how small you think the accident may be. By law, accidents at work are required to be reported if the person is injured and can’t perform their daily work tasks for more than three days. Make sure to fill out an Accident Report Form. This can be used for reference in any medical examination and will also prevent any similar accidents from happening in the future.
Identify any witnesses
If possible, try to collect the contact details of anybody that witnessed your accident. This may be of use if you do decide to pursue a workplace accident claim. It is also useful to find out if there is any CCTV in the area where your accident happened.
Document the incident
It is important that you collect all the relevant information in connection with your accident:
- How the accident happened
- Details of any witnesses
- If there are any CCTV recordings of your accident
- Take pictures of where the accident happened and what caused your accident
Speak to a workplace accident solicitor
If you are considering moving forward with a workplace accident claim for any personal injuries sustained, it is advisable that you speak with a workplace accident claims solicitor as soon as possible. If you are proceeding with a claim, the first step will be submitting your claim to the Personal Injuries Assessment Board (PIAB) for assessment. A workplace accident solicitor can help you in preparing your application to the Personal Injuries Assessment Board (PIAB) and ensure that you follow the process in the correct format, meaning that you can move forward with your claim quickly without unnecessary delays.
It is important to remember to keep copies of any expenses that you have incurred as a result of the accident. It is also imperative to retain copies of medical reports or incident report forms where possible as you will need them when making a claim.