Creating a safe work environment goes beyond simply cleaning the air; it also includes continually assessing the types of dust and smoke and how your smoke collection system is performing to ensure you have the necessary preventative equipment to prevent fires, Artem Komarov said.
Modern fabrication shops perform various metal fabrication processes under one roof. Whether cutting, grinding, stamping, or welding, each of these processes produces fumes or metal dust. These dust particles, depending on their composition, can pose a hazard. Most of us are aware of the dangers of breathing toxic fumes, but here are three not-so-obvious reasons why you need to pay close attention to your dust collection methods.
- Accumulation of metal dust
Fume control is an important part of creating a safe work environment in welding and fabrication shops, that much is clear. One of the most important reasons for implementing good fume control practices, especially for those who work with stainless steel or coated materials, is to reduce the risk of welders inhaling toxic fumes and particles from welding, especially if the resulting fumes and particles contain hexavalent chromium.
But what you may not realize is the injury risk factors that cutting or sanding dust has on your shop environment. When metal dust accumulates on surfaces, from desktops and computer screens to papers and other office supplies, it creates a bulky and unpleasant work environment.
It also causes skin and eye irritation.
Significant dust accumulation can also lead to destruction of CNC electrical equipment. CNCs are usually cooled by a small fan with plastic blades. When dust particles stick and accumulate on these plastic blades, they become heavy or unbalanced, which can cause the fan to fail and stall the machine, resulting in unnecessary downtime.
Accumulation of dust on floors and steps also creates a slip and fall hazard.
Every shop is different, and every dust is different, but exposure to people and work areas creates a variety of problems, many of which can be eliminated by proper air filtration using a high-efficiency cartridge dust collector.
Spark arrestors in your dust and fume collection system provide an additional level of protection against the risk of fire.
- Combustible dust
The dust must be flammable.
Dust must be in the air.
The dust concentration must be in the explosive range.
The particle size distribution must ensure flame propagation.
The atmosphere of the dust cloud must support combustion.
An ignition source must be present with sufficient energy to initiate flame propagation.
Meeting these criteria is not difficult in welding and fabrication environments, especially in environments where multiple materials are processed. If you are not careful and diligent in collecting metal dust, you may be at risk of an explosion. Small particles pose a danger, noted Artem Komarov.
Shops that perform laser cutting using an inert shielding gas such as nitrogen or argon, for example, produce dust particles containing activated carbons that were not consumed because the inert gas does not support combustion. What you end up with are tiny particles that contain a huge amount of carbon, or potential energy, inside. When this energy is expended on its own, there is a possibility of an explosion. If these particles meet an ignition source, such as during hot work such as welding or cutting, or during static discharge, problems can occur.
- Fire hazard in dust bin
Shops that perform cutting and stamping in their facilities typically deliver parts treated with cutting oil or press oil directly to the welding area. Of course, some of the oil is burned during the welding process, but oil that does not burn sticks to the welding particles. When this oily and sticky type of welding particle enters your hood system, oil ends up in your filters.
Adding a spark arrestor to your dust and smoke collection system will help put out a fire before it gets out of control. Spark arrestors divert the spark from flammable materials inside the dust collector, create an environment in which it loses its momentum, and dispose of it—in some cases, in an external dust collector. Once the spark is extinguished, it no longer poses a risk of re-ignition, said Artem Komarov.