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Welding Hazards in Massachusetts

Recently, the U.S. Department of Labor’s Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) cited a New England contractor for workplace hazards that existed at its welding shop. Because welding is associated with many hazards, Massachusetts’ employers and employees of welding shops and similar operations must take several precautions.

The OSHA director commenting on the citation explained that there was no effort made by the employer in this case to protect workers from serious hazards. Workers were exposed to burns, falls, lacerations and more.

In this case, OSHA’s area office conducted a follow-up inspection because the contractor did not provide documents to demonstrate it corrected various violations cited in 2012. Among the eight hazards listed were failure to place welding screens near stations, failure to maintain extinguishers ready to put out fires, failure to train workers on the hazardous chemicals around them, failure to separate oxygen and fuel gas cylinders, failure to offer a guardrail, and failure to install safety guards on welding machines.

The contractor was fined $165,550 for its failure to abate these conditions. There was also a “serious citation.” “Serious citations” are those in which there is a substantial probability of death or serious injury resulting from a hazard an employer knows or should know about. In this case, the serious citation was for blocking access to electrical panels.

OSHA warns of numerous dangers associated with welding. For example, workers should be cautious about zinc fumes associated with the manufacture of galvanized metals and certain alloys. Exposure to zinc fumes may cause metal fume fever. Metal fume fever symptoms include fever, chills, dry throat, cough, fatigue, weakness, nausea, and profuse sweating. Usually symptoms don’t last more than a 24-hour day, but it is still important to be cautious.

Another potential hazard is exposure to cadmium. If you are exposed to cadmium for a long period, even low levels, you can acquire emphysema, which affects your lungs’ ability to absorb oxygen. You may also experience kidney damage.

You may also be exposed to iron oxide, mercury and lead at a welding operation. Iron oxide fumes can arise and irritate the nasal passages, lungs, and throat. Mercury vapors can cause stomach pains, respiratory failure, diarrhea, or kidney damage. Lead-bearing alloys or metals are painted with lead-based paint and may create lead oxide fumes. Inhaling these fumes can cause lead poisoning, which manifests as nausea, cramps, insomnia, and a metallic mouth taste, among other things. It can lead to anemia over time and impact the brain, reproductive system, kidneys, circulatory system and muscles.

There are a host of other hazards including beryllium, fluorides, chlorinated hydrocarbon solvents, phosgene, carbon monoxide, ozone. In addition to fumes, there are hazards specific to the ultraviolet light from welding arcs: ozone and nitrogen oxides. Ozone can irritate the mucus membranes and impact the lungs long term. High concentrations of nitrogen oxides have very deleterious health effects, causing shortness of breath, chest pain, and fluid in the lungs.

The electric arc presents other dangers, too. Among them are ultraviolet radiation (which can cause both severe burns and “arc-eye”), infrared radiation, and intense visible light.

Massachusetts workers’ compensation laws can be complex. If you have been seriously injured on the job, an experienced Massachusetts workers’ compensation attorney may be able to help. Contact us by calling 800-367-0871 or using our online contact form.

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