Extreme Dangers of Welding in the Heat

“On June 27, 2003, via the coroner, the Kentucky Fatality Assessment and Control Evaluation program became aware of an occupational fatality involving heat stroke. A site visit was made on July 1, 2003, and the decedent’s employer and witnesses were interviewed.

A 16-year-old construction company which primarily laid pipe, poured concrete, and built foundations and walls, was contracted to expand a manufacturing facility. Employees on the job site usually numbered from nine to 15, but on this day, only 6 employees (including the job foreman) were at the job site. Toolbox talks were held by the foreman on a weekly basis, or as needed to address changes in the scope of the work.

There was water available at the work site for the workers to drink. The laborers took their morning, lunch and afternoon breaks in the air-conditioned construction trailer on site. Workers were allowed to use the trailer to cool down if they felt over-heated during the work day. According to the coroner’s report, the temperature that day was 90 degrees Fahrenheit [32.2 degrees Celsius]. Also, according to a local weather reporter, the dew point was a humid 69 degrees [20.6 degrees Celsius].

The decedent, a certified welder, had been hired by the construction company to perform welding duties for the expansion of the manufacturing facility. On the day he collapsed, he had been employed by the company for one day.”


What We Can Learn From This Tragedy

The employee was on the job for one day. OSHA in 2005 tracked 25 heat-related incidents. Nearly ½ of the incidents was the worker ’s first day on the job site. In 80% of the incidents, the worker had been on the job site 4 days or less.

Water and air conditioning were available for the workers. Even when precautions are implemented, workers can still be at risk.

The welder wasn’t able to recognize, he was in need of serious help. It’s a fact, that there’s a tipping point where a person no longer can recognize the danger signs; they continue working, pushing further into the danger area.

This incident involved a welder. Welders are at a greater risk for heat stress than most workers. Their PPE (Protective Personal Equipment) is bulky, heavy and doesn’t breathe well. Their tools (the welding gun and machine) produce heat. The welding arc produces heat. Welders are ideal candidates for heat stress problems.

He was 41. He wasn’t too old but age does play a factor in how well the body copes with excess heat. Another thing to consider is if a person has a medical condition, this can contribute to the problem of heat stress.


What Is Heat Stress?

Exposure to extreme heat. Heat stress can cause heatstroke, heat exhaustion, heat cramps, or heat rashes.

Symptoms. High body temperature (104 F/40 C), altered mental state or behavior, alteration in sweating (where the skin feels hot and dry to the touch), nausea and vomiting, flushed skin, rapid breathing, racing heart rate and headaches.

Risk factors. Age, as you get older your central nervous system starts to deteriorate and it’s harder to regulate body temperatures and it also gets harder to stay hydrated. Certain medications that effect your blood pressure, such as vasoconstrictors, beta blockers, diuretics, antidepressants or antipsychotics and stimulants such as ADHD medication, amphetamines, and other illicit stimulants, can all put someone at risk. Health conditions such as heart and lung diseases, obesity, and having a previous history of heat stroke, also can put someone at risk.

Treatment. Heatstroke requires emergency treatment. Untreated heatstroke can quickly damage your brain, heart, kidneys, and muscles. The damage worsens the longer treatment is delayed, increasing your risk of serious complications or death. Call 911 immediately if you suspect heatstroke.


Problems From Heat Stress

If heat stress goes untreated, it can result in death. For something so preventable, this should never be the result of heat stress.

Days Off. Most heat stress is caught in good time. Appropriate steps are taken to reduce the body’s heat. But, their body went too far. So, they end up missing days of work, while their body makes a recovery.

Slower production. In hot conditions, a worker isn’t going to produce at the same level as a normal day. He’s going to need to take breaks to safely get through the day.


Things To Do

Breaks. During hot weather, workers need to take appropriate breaks. The supervisor has the power to make workers take the appropriate recesses. A very good worker can be their own worst enemy; they think they can power through anything. A new worker can put themselves under pressure to stand out and be reluctant to complain.

Management. The supervisor needs to look after their crew. Even when you’re not working in 40C weather, precautions still need to be taken. The OSHA link gives a great guideline on break schedules and how to monitor workers for risk of heat-related illnesses. https://www.osha.gov/SLTC/heatillness/heat_index/monitoring_workers.html

Acclimatization. It does work. It can take 7 days or longer for it to happen. However, you can lose the power of acclimatization quicker than you can gain it. Even having the weekend off, you can lose some of the ability to deal with the heat.

Staying Cool. There’s some PPE clothing that helps a bit: lighter fire resistant welding jackets and sleeves for welding. A lot of the clothing has to do with the type of welding you’re doing (overhead versus flat; TIG welding thin material versus continuous heavy duty welding). Miller also has the Cool Belt for welders who are under the helmet all day. Large overhead fans can help circulate the air.

Staying Hydrated. Staying hydrated doesn’t just mean drinking a lot of water, it means keeping your electrolytes up. When you sweat you lose important electrolytes including sodium and potassium, which help to regulate the fluid levels in your body. There are drinks that can help replenish the electrolytes, such as Gatorade and Sqwincher. There are also certain fruits that are excellent at keeping the body cool, such as; watermelon, honey dew melon, cucumber, coconut water and citrus fruits.

**Important note: Overhydration can also be a problem if a normal person drinks more than 6 gallons of water in a day, or drinks more water than they are able to excrete. Overhydration is not usually a problem unless a person has kidney, heart, pituitary gland or liver problems.

Summer comes once a year. We want to enjoy it while it’s here. We don’t want to turn a good thing into a bad thing. If we can help, please give us a call.




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