When it comes to the metal fabrication process, welding galvanized steel is an important and valuable technique. This method is used especially when making galvanized steel gratings or galvanized steel wire cloth.
However, over the years, it has received a bad reputation because of certain issues to the welder’s health and to the material itself. But with proper knowledge and skills, the health of the welding personnel will not be in trouble. Aside from that, having enough understanding on this process will also result in a satisfactory welded output.
To educate you further, here is a blog post on the things to learn about welding galvanized steel safely.
1. Defining galvanized steel
Basically, galvanized steel is regular steel sheets covered in zinc, making it rust-resistant. A regular steel sheet is usually made of iron. But this material is susceptible to rust when exposed to moisture.
Galvanized steel is one of the most common kinds of steel in the market today. One of the main reasons is its extended durability. It also has the same elasticity as steel. Aside from that, it has the corrosion-resistant features of the zinc-iron coating.
Furthermore, galvanized steel is mostly used for modern steel frame buildings. Some industries that utilise galvanized steel include wind and solar industries, automotive industries, construction industries and telecommunication industries.
2. Material issues when welding galvanized steel
There are certain issues that welders might encounter when welding galvanized steel. Here are some of them.
- Corrosion issues
Corrosion resistance is a common problem when it comes to welding galvanized steel. The idea of galvanizing is to prevent the steel from rusting. However, you need to get rid first of the galvanizing zinc across the welding area, thus, uncovering the area for corrosion.
The only way to work this out is to galvanize the steel again after the welding is completed. Although it is time-consuming, it is a practical method to maintain the corrosion-resistant property of the material.
- Coating issues
Apart from the health issues that welding galvanized steel can pose, there are other problems that you may encounter. One of the challenges when it comes to welding galvanized steel is that the zinc coating found on galvanized steels. This material can compromise the weld. Since there is a coating, it makes the penetration more difficult. Moreover, it can cause a weld to have inclusions and porosity.
To weld galvanized steel successfully, a skilled welder is required. Furthermore, to solve the coating issue, the zinc coating should be removed from the area where you are welding. A filler material can also be used on the zinc-coated portion of the welding area.
3. Proper care and maintenance to protect galvanized steel
To avoid or minimise the issues when it comes to galvanizing steel, it is crucial to have general care and maintenance of your products. Here are some important guidelines to do this.
- Galvanized steel products should not be exposed to conditions where pH is between 6 and 12. This is because the galvanized coating can undergo greater corrosion than the usual.
- There should be no direct contact of the galvanized steel products with dissimilar metals that include brass and copper specifically in corrosive environments.
- Avoid cleaning or washing galvanized steel products abrasively. There is a thin barrier film of insoluble zinc corrosion material that is developed on the outer space of the galvanized steel. This is also known as a patina. This protects the galvanized steel from corrosion. Harsh cleaning will wash away this protective film. When this happens, more zinc will be consumed. This will eventually reduce the life of the galvanized steel product.
- For galvanized steel products that are located in highly corrosive areas such as coastal and heavy industrial places, make sure to rinse the product with potable water regularly. It also should not be exposed to rain and sun.
- Make sure not to store the galvanized products in a damp and poorly ventilated areas for a very long time. The storage location should be dry and has good ventilation.
4. Health issues regarding welding galvanized steel
Other than the material issues, there are also health risks that operators may encounter. To learn more about these hazards, read more below.
Metal fume fever
When welding galvanized steel, the zinc coating easily vaporises. This will form zinc oxide fumes that will mix with the air. This gas may give short-term effects to your health which is also known as “metal fume fever”. Welders may experience flu-like symptoms once they inhale the fumes. These may include nausea, headaches, high fever, shivers and thirst. The symptoms will usually go away within 48 hours of exposure.
Long term health concerns
There is a small lead content on the galvanized coating. When welding, this lead will vaporise and form lead oxide fumes. These gases can cause long-term health problems such as lung and brain cancer and even complications in the nervous system. Thus, it is crucial to wear the proper safety equipment to avoid these health problems.
Safety gear and proper training
From the safety concerns mentioned above, it all boils down to the lack of welder safety training. It is vital that the welder is well-trained. They should keep the welding shield and welder’s face out of the fumes. The welder should also be in a proper position so that the clean airflow is maximised. Apart from that, this will prevent the oxidized dust from gathering inside the welder’s shield.
For safety purposes, the welder should be provided with a high-quality mask. They should also be fully trained on the safety measures when in terms of welding.
5. Ways to improve safety welding
To make sure that the operator is safe while welding, it is essential to follow these tips. Below are some safety welding practices.
Wear proper clothes
Remember that when welding, any exposed skin is susceptible to the damaging effects of UV and infrared rays. Furthermore, sparks can easily catch in open pockets, cuffed pants or shirts that are not completely buttoned. That is why it is important to wear clothes that don’t expose the skin. Also, make sure not to keep any matches or butane lighters in your pockets.
Wear the appropriate gear
Before anything else, every welding personnel should be provided with proper welding personal protective equipment. These equipment include welding gloves, helmets, leather jackets and boots. Apart from these gears, a respirator is highly required especially when welding galvanized steel.
For best foot protection, use high-top leather shoes or boots. Make sure that the pants should go over your shoes. Avoid using cloth shoes since they will smoulder easily.
Make sure that there is enough clean breathing air
Smoke and fumes that are emitted during welding can create a health hazard. Toxic fumes can accumulate easily and shielding gasses may also replace breathable air. Thus, working in a well-ventilated area is crucial.
If the welder is working in confined spaces, use an exhaust hood. This can remove fumes from the space and ensure that there is enough clean air to breathe.
Keep welders' eyes protected
When welding with unprotected eyes, a welder may experience arc flash with just a few seconds of exposure to welding arc’s rays. It is a painful condition in the eyes that may last several hours after exposure.
Hence, always wear proper welding helmets with filter shade. This is to protect the welder’s eyes when welding. Choose an approved safety glasses with side shields and ear protection.
Welding galvanized steel can be risky for people who have no prior knowledge when it comes to metal fabrication process. It is also important to learn safety precautions when welding these materials.
Having the right approach to welding galvanized steel is the best way to deal with certain issues. If you need help for your metal fabrication needs, do not hesitate to contact a skilled and experienced sheet metal fabricator in your local area.