Real-Time Protection for Workers in Construction & Fabrication Using Control Banding
December 14, 2023
In welding construction, fabrication, and repair industries, workers often encounter a variety of materials and processes that may pose health risks, such as welding fumes, dust, and chemical agents. Control banding offers a simplified yet effective method for assessing and implementing control measures based on the potential risks associated with specific tasks or materials. This approach allows workers and employers to quickly identify and apply appropriate controls, ranging from engineering controls to administrative measures, without the need for complex exposure assessments.
How to Apply Appropriate Controls to Each Level of Hazard
Before control approaches can be taken, chemicals must be categorized based on their hazard levels. The GHS classifications of health hazard statements identify hazardous substances. This designation makes it easier to classify control approaches by hazard band.
When dealing with chemicals of low hazard levels, construction and fabrication employers should implement natural ventilation and good industrial hygiene (IH) practices. Natural ventilation is the current state of control in many industries including welding construction, fabrication, and repair industries. This control approach ensures that workers should have unrestricted access to fresh air. In many situations, outdoor work would provide more ventilation. However, it may blow fumes into the beathing zone and compromise the weld. For workers who are confined to indoor environments, the continuous flow of clean air across the breathing zone is essential to reducing the concentration of airborne contaminants and potentially harmful substances.
Considering that construction and fabrication workers encounter several potential hazards on-the-job, it is recommended that employers make 5 air changes per hour to enhance air quality and keep workers safe. However, it is important to note that natural ventilation is not appropriate for carcinogenic welding fumes.
In addition to these proactive measures, employers need to ensure that they have procedures in place to act promptly in the event of workplace accidents such as spills. Not only that, but employers should have well-established procedures to train workers on control measures, emphasizing the importance of using standard personal protective equipment (PPE) such as coveralls, safety glasses, and gloves.
Engineering controls such as Local Exhaust Ventilation (LEV) can reduce fume exposures if used correctly (that is, positioned 1 to 1.5 hood diameters from the arc) and routinely measured for effectiveness. LEV should be part of the solution but not the basis of a control approach. Even if LEV does not eliminate welding fumes at the source, it can enhance natural ventilation to reduce fume exposure to coworkers in the shop or in the immediate vicinity outdoors.
If possible, it is recommended that employers enclose the source of danger to minimize harm. To maintain the effectiveness of LEV systems, annual testing is recommended to ensure that the ventilation systems continue to operate at optimal levels and safeguarding the health of construction and fabrication workers engaged in medium-risk tasks.
Containment builds upon the previous control measures, emphasizing the importance of conducting material handling within closed systems with minimal breaches. Containment is necessary for welding exposures and chemical leaks. The containment needs to create a negative pressure at the source so that clean air moves into the contaminated zone. This scenario is ideal but may not be practical or available outside of dedicated, state-of-the-art manufacturing facilities.
Containment using PAPR
Most welding necessitates the worker being within arm’s length of the work, which makes an isolation room unrealistic; however, isolating the worker’s breathing zone is not. Use of a powered, air-purifying respirator (PAPR) is intended to create a containment level of protection for the welder during welding and thermal cutting processes. Because use of a PAPR is not true containment of the exposure, the control scheme must include protection for other workers, contractors, or visitors. Increased ventilation or LEV, restricted work areas, decontamination practices, and PPE should also be part of the control scheme.
Expert Advice + Containment
When construction and fabrication workers deal with highly hazardous substances through extreme risk activities, multiple control strategies may be required to keep workers safe. To prevent instances of severe chemical damage and health risks, Exposure Control Plans (ECP) and preventative maintenance programs may be prescribed by health and safety consultants. For specific threats like lead, asbestos, and silica, health surveillance of construction and fabrication workers may need to be mandated. Often times, respirators will be assigned making medical fitness testing necessary.
Control Banding Recommendations for Workers in Construction & Fabrication
By separating the exposed population into two groups and the exposure into two categories, control banding reduces exposure control into four approaches:
High Fume Emitting Process: welder and helper require a PAPR with cape and HEPA filter.
High Fume Emitting Process: coworkers or bystanders in the shop or in the immediate vicinity outdoors require a half-face, air-purifying respirator (HFAPR) with a P100 filter.
Low Fume Emitting Process: welder and helper require an HFAPR with a P100 filter.
Low Fume Emitting Process: coworkers or bystanders in the shop or in the immediate vicinity outdoors require an N95 respirator
How Chemscape Can Help
By using control banding, construction and fabrication employers can address potential health hazards, promoting a safer working environment, and reducing the likelihood of occupational illnesses. Chemscape can help prioritize worker safety with our award-winning Chemical Management Software, CHAMP. This solution empowers organizations to effectively evaluate and manage chemical hazards. Contact our team today to request a demo.