This past weekend a welder in Orchard Mesa, Colorado was cutting iron inside his welding shop located on his property in a 50 x 50 metal barn. Shortly before noon, the welder left the barn to have a snack. When he returned to the barn, it was in flames. Witnesses reported several explosions from inside the barn where welding equipment and several vehicles were kept. Firefighters who responded to the fire reported that the barn and all of its contents were a total loss.
In Roanoke, Virginia the co-owner of Metal Tech, a local company that specializes in steel fabrication, sheet metal fabrication, hand rails, and metal fencing, was welding one evening when he noticed some flames coming from the floor. The co-owner described the scene to the Roanoke Times: “I turned around, and all I could see was flames going up the wall,” he said. “Next thing I know, there was flames going across my head. It went up quick.” The 1,300 square foot space which had housed Metal Tech for 17 years completely burned down. The fire cost approximately $266,000 in damages.
Most welding and cutting processes produce molten metal, slag, and sparks. While it is common practice to protect the immediate area surrounding the welding area, sparks, spatter, and molten metal, which are the main cause of welding related fires and explosions, can travel up to 35 feet from the work area. Sparks, spatter, and molten metal can travel even farther when welding or cutting is occurring at a higher location, and pose a significant danger when they become trapped in floor or wall cracks, the welder’s clothing, and other openings.
As both these recent accidents illustrate, even seasoned welders run the risk of significant property damage and even bodily injury if proper safety procedures are not implemented and followed. Since 1944 the American Welding Society has published and updated ANSI Z49.1 Safety in Welding, Cutting, and Related Processes, which details safety processes, procedures, and equipment requirements.
Z49.1 outlines some basic practices and procedures that can be implemented to minimize the risk of fire in the area surrounding welding and cutting. For example:
- Remove any combustible materials, such as wood, paper, rags, clothing, plastics, chemicals, flammable liquids and gases, dusts, and trash within a 35 foot area surrounding any welding and cutting.
- If relocating combustibles is not possible, then fire resistance covers should be used to protect the combustibles from any sparks, spatter, and molten metal.When possible, a fire-resistant screen should be used to protect the area surrounding welding and cutting. All openings within a 35 foot radius of welding and cutting should be covered or blocked by fire resistant material. This includes doorways, windows, and cracks or other openings.
For additional information on fire safety information, download a free copy of the latest version of Z491.:2012 at: http://www.aws.org/w/a/survey/standard.html?survey_start=z49_reqpdf.