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How is welding safety looking?

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article image Example of a date stamp applied to a blowpipe handle.

In July this year, a new Code of Practice: Welding Processes came into effect in NSW. 

The continued promulgation of this particular Code to improve workplace heath and safety, and a recent incident involving the use of gas equipment, brings into question whether we as industry can improve on what we are currently doing. 

An incident involving the use of gas equipment in a cutting application came to light recently in Australian industry (fortunately it did not result in an injury). 

The incident investigation process initially indicated that the cause of the incident was the use of faulty equipment, but was this really the root cause? 

The incident served to focus significant attention onto gas equipment for normally routine welding and cutting tasks. 

In particular those responsible for managing workplace health and safety paid close attention to this incident. 

Further investigation into the incident revealed that the equipment may have been faulty, but more significantly that it should never have been used in the first place. 

Internal corporate standards defining whether equipment could be used and how it should be tested prior to use were inadequate compared with industry defined best practice in the form of AS 4839: The safe use of portable and mobile oxy-fuel gas systems for welding, cutting, heating and allied processes and WTIA Technical Note No. 7: 2013-Health and Safety in Welding.

The incident investigation demonstrated the importance of following the basic tenements of using gas equipment: regular inspection and maintenance of equipment, and always leak test prior to using. 

Unfortunately for the employer and the operator of the equipment, these basic elements were not up to the expected industry standard. 

Industry standards
In most states and territories, the expected industry standard is the Code of Practice: Welding Processes. 

For specific and detailed guidance, reference should be made to AS 4839: The safe use of portable and mobile oxy-fuel gas systems for welding, cutting, heating and allied processes and WTIA Technical Note No. 7: 2013-Health and Safety in Welding

These documents recommend that gas equipment be regularly inspected, tested, maintained and or replaced. 

Table 1 is an extract fromAS4839 that recommends intervals to be applied to gas equipment.
Replacement or refurbishment intervals of gas equipment can easily be determined by those responsible for maintaining the gas equipment from date stamps applied by the manufacturer. 

Observations on gas equipment
The only acceptable standard for the number of incidents involving gas equipment should be zero, but is this possible when operators are found using gas equipment that is clearly unacceptable even to the lay person? 

Random observations have shown that there are operators who actively use gas equipment that would never be considered safe. 

These rogue operators demonstrate that the safety message is not penetrating all industry levels, or is being ignored. 

It also demonstrates that operators, business owners, managers, and members of the public are being exposed to unacceptable levels of risk through negligence, or ignorance or both. 

What can industry do?
Every owner, operator, and manager should continue taking ownership of the duty of care regarding the safe use of safe gas equipment by ensuring the application of best practice in every workplace or work site. 

Suppliers of gas equipment should also develop and share existing resources with industry that promote best practice through all available mediums and channels to the market. 

The public, as customers of service providers who use gas equipment, should also refuse to allow operators to operate clearly dangerous equipment in their homes or businesses. This may require the pooling of resources to promote a public awareness campaign. One incident is one too many. 

Best practice for managing gas equipment applies to all industry segments, whether large international multi-site corporations involved in fabrication or site work, to small owner-operated businesses such as plumbers or air conditioning service providers. 

[RJ Fowles, N Bothma, and E Butterfiled work for BOC Australia]

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