In the metal fabrication industry, sparks are always flying…literally. Because these sparks, especially from welding, are so common in our workplace, we sometimes fail to recognize just how hazardous they can be. But sparks aren’t the only challenge to fire safety welding presents. Preventing welding fires takes diligence and a healthy respect for tools and materials. Here are 5 fire safety tips for preventing welding fires on your shop floor.
1. Being Aware of and Minimizing Combustible Materials in Welding Areas
Welders are often so focused on the task at hand, they may be unaware of nearby materials that may be combustible. This includes flooring, walls and partitions. Welding must be done away from plastics, chemicals, gasses or other materials that can ignite quickly. Welders need to be aware of any vapors of heavy dust in the air. Unfortunately, even experienced and skilled welders can be caught off-guard because they have become so comfortable with the tools of their trade. Combustible materials may be moved temporarily into a welding area and too easily ignored when work begins. Always review what is in the welding zone and take appropriate steps before welding.
2. Understand Just How Far Flying Sparks Can Fly
It is generally understood that sparks can fly up to 35 feet and still remain hot enough to present a fire hazard at about 2,500 degrees. While it is not practical to dedicated such a large “safe zone” it is possible to better protect equipment, facilities and the people who are working close to welding areas. Expand your view of potential problems in these wider zones and address at least the most vulnerable spaces.
3. Wear Protective Clothing even when Welding Small Jobs
Most welders are well aware of the dangers of hot metal or sparks when it comes to clothing. They can far to easily be caught in cuffs, pockets and even collars. This is why personal protection equipment is so critical in fire safety when welding. While most understand the importance of PPE when welding large jobs, they may be tempted to take more minimal precautions when performing a small or quick weld. They are called “accidents” for a reason and not wearing the proper gear, even in what may seem like a simple procedure, can cause problems.
4. Minimize Cracks and Crevices in Welding Areas
Fires resulting from hot metal that hides in cracks or crevices around a welding area can cause significant problems. While it may be nearly impossible to seal all such cracks or openings, even some efforts can greatly reduce the risk. Inspect areas and ask yourself where sparks could potentially hide and begin to burn unnoticed. Address these openings the best you can. Of course, you’ll want to have working fire extinguishers noticeably placed and available to take care of any hot spots.
5. Keep a Log of All the Steps You Take Preventing Welding Fires
There are good reasons to keep a log of all steps you and your team take in preventing welding fires, even the smallest ones. It raises awareness of team members and increases the level of importance you place on fire prevention steps. If a team member moves combustible material, date and note it. If an expired fire extinguisher is notices and replaced, write it down. This log can also serve as powerful documentation of your safety steps should a problem occur.
When you elevate the importance of safety in your shop, including welding fire safety, you demonstrate that your organization cares about keeping workers safe at more than the minimal government required levels. This sends a powerful message.