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Welding in Confined Spaces - Identifying Risks

Confined Spaces

Welding carries with it a number of potential hazards. Even for the most experienced welders, the risk factor is intensified when this work is carried out in a confined space. It is essential that detailed risk assessments are carried out, and clear, safe, working practices are implemented.

By definition, a confined space is one where access and manoeuvrability is restricted, this in turn can result in restricted ventilation, resulting in a possible build-up of toxic gases, or a reduction in oxygen. To prevent serious injury, it is vital that Welders working under these conditions are adequately supervised; equipped with any necessary (additional) protective and monitoring equipment; and fully trained.

Potential Hazards when Welding in a Confined Space

Toxic Gases
Short term exposure to Welding Fumes could cause respiratory irritation, metal fume fever, and an increased susceptibility to pneumonia. In the longer term, exposure can lead to serious lung diseases and cancer.

Explosion
In small spaces, welding can result in the ignition of flammable gases, dusts, vapours, and other combustible materials. This could lead to fire or explosion.

Fire
Welding on the outside of a confined space can easily cause ignition of materials which come in contact with the metal on the inside.

Asphyxiation
Poor ventilation can result in an accumulation of shielding gases, causing possible asphyxiation (suffocation from lack of oxygen).

Escape Routes/Restricted Access
There is an obvious risk of falling and/or being trapped.

Electrical Hazard
The metal of an enclosure will become part of the welding circuit. Welders may inadvertently be in contact with an area of a vessel or tank that is electrically ‘hot’, thus any metal touched may also become part of the welding circuit.

Radiation and Heat Conduction
Where confined spaces contain reflective metal or alloy, issues related to glare and UV Radiation are intensified. This in turn increases the risk of arc burns to the skin or ‘arc eye’, due to reflected radiation.

General Awareness
Not all confined spaces are obvious. Also be aware of ductwork, open-topped chambers, and poorly-ventilated rooms.

Avoiding Danger and Reducing Risk

Air Quality!
Fume Extraction Systems are an essential component, when welding in confined spaces. Where the electrical confines of a space make mobile extraction difficult, businesses should look at Exhaust and Air Supply systems as an alternative. See Product Range >

Where necessary a welder should be equipped with a respiratory device, independent of the ambient air. Gas monitors should be used where required.

PPE
Ensure the correct Personal Protective Equipment is used, in accordance with HSE Regulations.

Training
Ensure the welder has the required experience, knowledge and correct certification for the task.

Electricity
Assess the risk. Implement Insulation such as rubber matting or wooden grating. Use an appropriate, labelled power source.

Supervision
Appoint a dedicated supervisor to assess the risks, identify safety measures, and monitor the work. The supervisor should observe from a safe zone, but remain in visual and audio contact with the welder.

Safe Escape
Exit routes from the danger zone, should be pre-identified and kept clear.

Tornado Industries

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