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Reducing Electrical Hazards in Maintenance Welding

Welding in any workplace introduces many hazards that must be controlled to prevent accidents, injuries, and property damage. Welding in a plant or on-site maintenance environment adds many additional challenges.

A weld that could be readily performed in a controlled space such as a maintenance shop becomes more complex when the location is remote or outside. One of the significant differences in field (or in-situ) welding is the increased likelihood of electrocution or inadvertent damaging of the facility’s electrical system.

A disturbing cluster of preventable electrocution and electrical shock incidents involving maintenance workers using arc welding has occurred in Canada in recent years. Earlier this year, the seventh edition of the national standard CSA W117.2:19, Safety in welding, cutting, and allied processes was published. This edition has many progressive updates, of which many are in direct response to the most recent reviews of injuries and fatalities, including electrical incidents.

The use of welding machines, especially in maintenance environments, can pose significant electrical hazards. They can provide enough voltage output to cause electrocution under certain circumstances, but there is technology readily available called a VRD, which can greatly reduce this hazard. Welding machines can also generate a stray current that will travel through the electrical system grounding or bonding wires, which can severely damage these critical safety devices, leading to significant property damage and even electrocutions.

The proper installation of the machine and routine inspection of plugs, receptacles, and cords are basically the same as a band-saw or other fabrication equipment operating from similar input power. It should also be mentioned, however, that many arc welding machines also provide an auxiliary power outlet for convenience. These outlets are used to operate electric tools that a welder may need at their worksite. Depending upon the situation, these outlets may require GFCI protection as dictated by the applicable standards and manufacturer’s recommendations.