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Concerns over the risks of welders being exposed to harmful welding fumes have initiated EU and national-level actions. The revised version of ISO standard 21904-3 defines the method for measuring the capture efficiency of welding fume extraction guns which helps the decision-makers to evaluate available options. Kemppi has conducted tests according to the new standard with Flexlite GF, a new fume-extracting MIG welding gun – with convincing results.
It is a well-known fact that welding generates fumes and gases which, if inhaled, can be harmful to human health. Welding fumes, especially when welding stainless steel and aluminum, are harmful to the respiratory tract and carcinogenic hazards have been identified to require protection for the welder.
The EU directive harmonizes the protection level
In general, the awareness of work-related risks and illnesses has increased, and as a result, new regulations and obligations for employers have come into force. The assumption is that new laws and sanctions are expected to come into force within the near future.
The welder’s occupational safety should no longer be ignored especially since the adherence to strict exposure limits has been enforced by EU member states based on EU Directive 2004/37 / EC. Basically, the directive aims at protecting the workers from the risks related to exposure to carcinogens or genetic modification occupational exposure to hazardous substances.
But how does the directive obligate the EU member states? It requires employers to use appropriate procedures for the measurement of exposure levels to carcinogens and mutagens at the workplace. The improvement in the equivalence of methods for measuring the concentration in the air is important to ensure a similar and a high-level of health protection for workers across the EU.
Tax incentives, registers and strikes lead the change
Actions have been taken also on the national and business level as well as among the welders themselves. Countries have come up with different practical approaches to minimize the welders’ health risks. In France, there is a TPE Prevention Grant – Welding + Safe financial aid granted for companies to prevent the risks of arc welding (MIG/MAG, TIG, or coated electrode processes). The target is to help companies to equip themselves with technical means to capture the emissions produced during arc welding operations at their source. The aid can be granted e.g. for a company that wants to shift from using the standard MIG welding guns into a full system of fume extraction torches. Welding + Safe is a subsidy of 20-50% of the total investment excluding taxes.
Another example is the amended ASA legislation which entered into force in Finland in September 2020. The ASA legislation has identified carcinogenic substances and processes related to their use, one of them being stainless steel welding and flame cutting. According to the law, the employer is required to maintain an ASA register to list the exposed workers and the number of hours exposed on an annual basis. Reporting is required if the annual reference hours are exceeded.
The pressure is on as there is also evidence that welders have started to demand better working equipment and even gone on strike due to the poor quality of air and inadequate safety equipment within their worksite.
The fume extraction gun – the way to protect the welder
The good news is that raising awareness and tightening regulations have also led the welding manufacturers to focus on developing products that reduce the welders’ health risks. This is a positive curve that will help the decision-makers to do better purchasing decisions. But what are the options to protect the welder from harmful welding fumes?
There are several means to remove welding fumes with e.g. ventilation or on-spot extractors. However, it is not always possible to build such equipment on a shipyard or other premises where the parts to be welded are large. The starting point should in fact be that the machines, the equipment, and their use enhance safety in the best possible way.
In that sense, welding fume extraction guns are a great way to solve the problem. With a fume extraction gun, the welding fumes are collected directly from the gun nozzle before they enter the breathing zone of the welder and others sharing the same space. Therefore, it provides the entire team a safer work environment.
Flexlite GF – the reference point for fume extraction guns
It is good to remember that the fume extraction gun is by no means a new invention. However, it now appears that there is a natural demand for it, as indicated by the standards that have come into force within recent years.
In general, the main standard for welding torches is IEC 60974-7 with the purpose to harmonize the welding torches used. In May 2020, it became mandatory for the welding equipment manufacturers to inform the capture efficiency of fume extraction gun measured according to ISO standard 21904-3. In addition, ISO 21904-3 defines the methods of measuring the fume extraction and the type of device used for the measurement.
In IEC 60974-7 version 2019, it became mandatory for the welding manufacturer to inform the capture efficiency of fume extraction gun measured according to ISO 21904-3.
Things that interest the end customer are total gun leakage which influences the total capture efficiency. After all, the welding gun has connectors and rotating parts, and the total leakage practically measures the leakage rate between the vacuum nozzle and the vacuum unit connector. The total efficiency thus tells what can be recovered with the fume extraction gun in the entire welding process. For Kemppi’s Flexlite GF, the total efficiency rate is 95% according to the test results conducted by the new ISO 21904-3 requirements.
“The fact that Kemppi is among the first welding manufacturers to conduct fume extraction tests according to ISO 21904-3 means that Flexlite GF meets the current requirements of the standard, which we believe will be the established means in the future”, says Florian Hegemann, Commercial Director of Guns and Torches BU, Kemppi Oy.
According to Hegemann, the Flexlite GF test results are therefore a reliable reference point for the decision-makers comparing different types of fume extraction guns and their tests results according to the new standard.