As more and more companies tout their pristine accident records, workplace safety is becoming a hot topic in the welding industry. A recent article in the Welding Journal highlights general safety precautions and shines the spotlight on a very specific metal: aluminum. You see, aluminum welding is unlike other welding in a number of ways. Because of aluminum’s unique characteristics, extra precautions need to be taken to ensure a safe working environment. Here are some things you should keep in mind when welding aluminum:
1. Aluminum’s appearance does not change when heated. It’s much more difficult to discern cold material from hot material when welding aluminum. To further complicate matters, aluminum has roughly five times the thermal conductivity of steel. As a result, it’s recommended that you label recently completed weldments as “hot” and wear leather gloves to reduce the risk of injury.
2. Aluminum welding can cause electrical shock. Aluminum weldments can result in electrical shock just like steel weldments – but for different reasons. In steel welding, a high-frequency arc starting option is initially employed and then eventually turned off. In aluminum welding, this option must remain active for the duration of the weld; in turn, the risk of electrical shock increases. A well-insulated welding system as well as proper grounding can help protect you in such cases.
3. Aluminum is highly reflective. Radiated light is a common concern when welding steel, but it can be especially problematic in aluminum welding. Because of its high reflectivity, aluminum poses a bigger threat when it comes to light-related injuries. Fortunately, measures such as light-blocking curtains and long-sleeved clothing can help minimize your exposure.
As you can see, aluminum welding does raise unique safety issues, but the proper precautions will ensure you stay safe and sound against these factors and others such as noise, fume emissions, explosions and cleaning liquids. For a more in-depth look at aluminum welding and associated safety concerns, check out the September 2013 issue of the Welding Journal. The Welding Journal is free with your AWS membership.