U.S. Department of Labor
Process: Hot Work
Hazard: Over Exposure to Harmful Substances
A new welder was assigned to an area where he had never worked before. After welding pipe for several hours he began to feel ill. As the day progressed, his flu like symptoms worsened and he became lethargic. When he woke up the next morning he felt even worse, but as a new worker he felt that he must report for work. His supervisor noticed he was ill and sent him to the medical department who found that his symptoms were consistent with Metal Fume Fever. Metal Fume Fever is an illness that results from exposure to the fumes produced by the oxidation of zinc. This is seen in shipyards most often as the result of welding or burning on galvanized steel or pipe. A quick call to the supervisor, who checked the area where the welder had been working the day before confirmed that the worker had been welding on galvanized pipe components for most of the preceding day.
Know the materials you are working with
Analysis and Preventive Measures
While this worker was trained in the hazards associated with welding on galvanized and other potentially toxic materials as part of his initial training program, he had not worked on galvanized metal before and did not recognize that the pipe he was working on was galvanized. New and inexperienced workers must be familiar with the potential hazards of materials they are working with before starting work. Even experienced workers when assigned to a new work location, or different job must familiarize themselves with all of the potential hazards associated with the area, processes, and the materials being used. Had this worker been aware that the pipe he was to weld on was galvanized, and had he taken necessary precautions in the form of ventilation and respiratory protection, this illness would have been prevented. Fortunately, if no further exposure occurs, Metal Fume Fever usually runs its course in 24 to 48 hours.
In this case, the employer conducted "deck plate" safety talks to re-instruct employees on the hazards associated with performing hot work on potentially toxic materials. The subject of supervisory responsibilities in assuring that workers understand the hazards and precautions that need to be taken was discussed and reinforced at the the weekly foreman's meeting.