Welding is a dangerous task, whether you do so in a professional industrial setting or as a more low-key part of your work in a workshop at home. You need to be aware of all the potential risk factors when dealing with these welding tools, especially when it comes to potential fire hazards.
Welding can cause fires, and can be a very dangerous activity. Many welding fires are the result of the by-products of using a welding touch – such as the torch flame, the sparks that may fly across a work room, and any hot slag produced during the welding process. Also, the risk of working with unsafe materials, within unsafe environments, or generally being careless when operating the welding torch.
Because there are so many ways that things can go wrong, I want to take some time to go through these different situations with you. The more you know about the different risk factors, the easier it will be to avoid them and to use your welding torch in a much safer manner.
How Common Are Welding-Related Fires?
The NFPA talks about hot work fires and the dangers involved there. This means working with fire and hot tools in a workshop, construction site, or similar environment.
Often, you will find that these fires occur in more professional and industrial settings with substantial construction and repair work underway.
However, there are also times when homeowners try and use welding torches in garages and workshops and don’t have the fire safety training to do so responsibly.
It is reported that US fire departments responded to around 4,580 structure fires involving hot work between 2014 and 2018.
Welding torches were involved in 40% of those non-residential hot work fires but only 31% of residential ones. This led to around 9 deaths, 56 injuries, and $157 million in direct property damage per year.
Around two-thirds of these fires were the result of people working too close to combustible elements.
Can Welding Torches Cause Fires?
Yes, the biggest threat to the safety of your worksite when using a welding tool is from the torch itself.
There is a large flame with high heat.
You don’t want this getting too hot and too high that it becomes a fire hazard by itself. But, this is a possibility, especially for those unfamiliar with a tool and its intensity.
Always be aware of your surroundings, including both objects and people in the vicinity. Always make sure to have your flame under control before starting work.
Are Welding Torch Sparks Dangerous?
One of the biggest risks when dealing with welding tools comes from the by-products and the chance of them igniting other materials and starting fires.
One of the more obvious risk factors is that of the sparks flying from the welding torch. These are easily visible while welding and are a big reason why welding visors are so essential.
We want to protect our eyes from injury. But, we don’t always think to protect our workrooms from the fire risk.
An alarming fact you may not be aware of is that sparks from a welding torch can travel as much as 35ft or 10m across a space.
This comes from the intensity of the reaction between the torch flame and the metal. Therefore, you need to see this a 35ft radius between you and the safest part of your work area.
In a small-scale setting or residential environment, there might not be 35ft of free space. So, assume that stray sparks can and will end up anywhere.
What Is Hot Slag?
Then there is the by-product of slag. This may be a new term if you are inexperienced with welding. But, it is something that you definitely need to be aware of.
Slag refers to the drops of molten metal created when a welding torch flame heats the metal to the appropriate temperature.
Often, those drops of metal fall to the ground, where they can eventually cool.
This reaction isn’t too big a problem if you have a fire-safe material on the floor or some protective covering that isn’t going to catch alight.
For example, if the slag drops onto smooth concrete it isn’t going to be an issue because concrete isn’t flammable, nor is it porous enough to pose any other problems.
However, in other set-ups, these hot drops of metal can end up dripping onto more flammable materials or drop into cracks in the floor.
This is a big problem if working in a workroom with wooden flooring, especially any that are past their best with cracks and holes.
Hot slag could settle here and maintain enough heat to ignite the wood and any other combustible dust or sawdust within.
How To Reduce Welding Fire Risks
These three risk factors from the welding torch highlight the importance of having control of your torch and understanding its effect on the materials and environment around it.
The other side to this is ensuring that you reduce the risk factors by creating a safer work environment while welding.
Remember, it is much easier to control the condition of your workshop than to control the direction of the sparks.
If you have the peace of mind that stray sparks aren’t going to ignite anything flammable in the vicinity of your work area, you can get on with the job and let them fly more easily.
Welding Torches And Flammable Materials.
The first place to start is by removing any flammable materials from the areas around your work. The list of possible flammable materials in a workshop is quite high.
For a start, there are materials such as any fabrics necessary for your project or wooden work areas and tools.
There is also the likelihood of solvents, such as cleaning products, and some may still be around on used rags.
Then there are additional materials such as steel wool. You can check out more about this flammable metal wool in my other guide by clicking the link.
Or, there may simply be a lot of dust and sawdust around that could ignite.
You also need to be careful about the presence of any flammable gasses. These could be in the form of pressurized containers within the workshop or any gas lines running to the building.
If a hot welding flame were to ignite one of these, it could be a disaster. Try and store any potentially dangerous substances well away from your work area.
Is It Safer To Weld Outside?
Of course, one possible option to avoid these risks is to take your work outside. Set up your tools and project out in a yard away from any enclosed spaces and too many flammable materials.
This will provide a much larger area where those sparks can fly. Also, any hot slag will just fall to the ground. It is better to do this on concrete or asphalt rather than grass where plant material could be set alight.
Make sure that the area is still as free from fire risks as possible and that those that share any communal areas are aware of what you are doing.
Can Faulty Welding Tools Cause Fires?
A final consideration for welding fire risks is that you are dealing with electrical equipment and flames.
Electrical fires are a possibility in workshops when we use tools that are no longer fit for purpose, or if we overload outlets or have poor wiring in the workshop.
So, a good starting point here is to make sure that all your outlets pass relevant safety checks and that you aren’t trying to power multiple tools from one socket.
Then you need to be sure that your tool is in equally good working order. Anything with damage to the plug or the wire shouldn’t be used in case of further damage.
Of course, you also need to be careful not to use the tool anywhere near water. Always mop up any spills on the floor.
Is Welding A Fire Risk?
To summarize, there are lots of potential fire risks when working with welding tools. The fire and sparks created from the torch, and the contact with the metal, are enough to ignite flammable materials and gases present in the vicinity.
From there, you also have to consider the possibility of fires from the hot slag dripping onto the floor.
Welding-related fires may be relatively common due to the nature of the job. But, there are plenty of ways we can reduce the risk – both in industrial and residential settings.
So, as long as you are careful in maintaining your tools and workroom, reduce the risk of contact with flammable materials, and pay due attention to the sparks and flame, you should be fine.