Welding Safety- the often unheard-of risks to your ears
- Posted by Jade
- On March 21, 2019
- 0 Comments
- PPE, Weld fume, welding, welding safety, WHS
In our last article we shared some shocking truths about the dangers of welding fume, and questioned whether the approach to weld fume extraction was perhaps sometimes a bit lax. Fume can have devastating long-term effects when inhaled, but continuous exposure to weld fume can also cause hearing loss.
Anyone on a work site would be familiar with the range of loud noises: machinery, grinding, welding, even the sound of exhaust extractors. It all combines to create quite a racket. In fact Safe Work Australia estimates that 28-32% of the Australian workforce is likely to work in an environment where they’re exposed to loud noise at work.
Ear protection should be provided and used in a loud workplace, as per Section 57 of the WHS regulations. But some people may not have access to ear plugs, or find it interferes with communication on the work site.
We’re here to tell you, wear those ear plugs!
It has been found that exposure to chemicals or heavy metals (weld fume) combined with loud noise cause more harm to your hearing than either type of exposure alone.
Welding can be a very loud process. Machines operate at a range of frequencies and volumes, but plasma arc welding generally exceeds the volume of other processes, the noise reaching levels that can be damaging over a long period, according to regulations.
Exposed ears are also at risk of a drop-weld ear injury. This occurs if a piece of hot metal falls into the ear canal, sometimes burning through the eardrum. The metal can then cool and harden around the ossicles of the middle ear (those tiny ear bones), requiring surgery to remove the metal. Luckily this kind of case is very rare, but not impossible, as one unlucky metalworker found.
On a work site, steps should be taken to make sure everyone’s ears are protected from noise, fume and flying metal. Wearing ear plugs is a pretty obvious and easy way to mitigate these risks.
Other solutions might include isolating the noise by using distance, barriers, welding bays and sound absorbing surfaces, and establishing policies that limit the amount of noise people are exposed to and the length of time they are exposed to it.
Have you had any experiences like the ones described above? We’d love to hear about them!
AWS is here to help. Our welding inspectors and quality auditors can help optimise your workplace to ensure your team and your projects are all operating safely.