Materials in Motion

Welders: Does Your Current Operation Have Your Back?

Almost every product we use on a daily basis is welded or made by welded equipment. Welders help fabricate an array of products from subways and airplanes to coffee pots and technology. Welding is the only way of joining two pieces of metal to create a single piece, which makes it a vital part of fabrication and repair for nearly every industry. Welding is also a vital part of our economy. Experts believe that more than 50 percent of the United States gross national product is related to welding in some way. Companies from nearly every type of industry hire welders to produce or repair products and equipment. Welding in general is an ever-present need, which means certified welders are always in demand. Unfortunately, welding does involve safety hazards, such as inhaling fumes, eye exposure, burns, lifting heavy equipment and materials, and maintaining static or awkward postures for prolonged periods of time.

With such a vast array of potential hazards for welders, it’s staggering to learn that most welding injuries are work-related musculoskeletal disorders caused by lifting heavy equipment and maintaining awkward postures. Because welding is such a strenuous occupation, it often involves a high level of sress sustained to the arms, back, and shoulders. According to the Washington State Department of Labor and Industries, sprains, fractures, and dislocations account for more than one-fourth of the compensable claims among welders in the state of Washington. These numbers are similar for other states across the U.S. Many of these injuries are caused by hazardous work-related musculoskeletal disorder exposures, which can be greatly reduced using the proper toolsConsidering these statistics, it is safe to assume that companies are protecting their welders from other types of hazards. Preventive efforts should, therefore, focus on reducing hazardous exposure to those body parts. Even so, one hazard may include several risk factors at a time–like heavy lifting, repetition, rigorous manual precision requirements, and awkward or static postures. The goal of a healthy work environment is to reduce or eliminate these risk factors, but we have to first understand what’s needed.

To reduce hazardous work-related musculoskeletal disorder exposures for welders, manufacturing and repair companies should look to simplify welding tasks for workers and reduce their physical work load. There are two recommended methods for doing this: one way is to expand the work content of welders to offer more flexibility between jobs. This is a good option for companies using multi-skilled workers who are able to perform different tasks within a group. But, most companies don’t have the workforce or ongoing resources to train employees in multiple areas. In these circumstances, another option to reduce hazardous exposures is for companies to analyze their current operation and to automate physically demanding and repetitive jobs involving welders.

For motivation, consider the consequences of a poor working environment. These consequences commonly include absences due to injury, overtime for replacement workers, high employee turnover, increased training and supervisory time, reduced productivity, and poor quality of work. One way to avoid these problems is to consider ergonomic design or material handling solutions specifically developed for work stations or areas commonly used by welders.

The most basic way to incorporate ergonomic solutions is in the simple design of your operation. This may include providing opportunities for work station adjustments, incorporating different tools, and developing good planning to eliminate unnecessary heavy lifting.  But, in the real world, the design of the workplace is usually driven by cost, maintenance, and space. Incorporating a new system or design may sound like a costly, time-consuming alteration, but finding the right system or design to incorporate can be more cost effective and beneficial than most companies realize. Minimizing or eliminating manual heavy lifting will greatly reduce common workplace hazards for welders, and introducing a new material handling solution may be easier than you think.

Most welders are tasked with lifting and transporting heavy materials within their work station on a daily basis. This type of repetitive, heavy lifting is bound to cause work place injuries, and is completely unnecessary. Even if your workers are transporting materials that weigh less than 75 pounds for a short distance; employers are still putting them at risk and slowing down productivity. To eliminate hazards from heavy lifting without re-designing your entire operation, consider the use of lightweight jib cranes, which can easily be installed in each work station to ensure heavy lifting is never a concern.

Jib cranes can be a potential cost-saving alternative to more complex overhead crane systems, particularly for individual work stations where welders move heavy materials from one area to another. Jib cranes are designed using a pivoting head and boom assembly that carries the hoist and trolley unit. The pivoting head can be supported by a floor-mounted mast, or by an existing building column or wall-mounted configuration. The floor-mounted configuration, also known as a freestanding jib crane, provides 360-degree boom rotation, whereas the wall or column-mounted jib crane provides 180-degree or 200-degree boom rotation.

Jib cranes work well in individual work areas because they provide precise spotting for light loads. Using multiple jib cranes mounted on work station walls doesn’t require workers to wait while one system is in use. Jib cranes are often used for workstation operations like machining, welding, fabrication stations, and small assembly stations. But, they can also be used for loading and unloading applications for smaller operations.

Workstation jib cranes are a great option for light duty lifting and transporting, which is what is usually required in operations with welding stations. These economical material handling solutions are lightweight, easy to move, and ergonomic. Furthermore, they are small and nimble, making them faster to use than motorized jibs, which is perfect for lifting and transporting repetitive loads in small stations. Many manufacturers offer portable freestanding jib cranes, if wall-mounted jibs aren’t an option. These portable systems offer the same 360-degree rotation as a regular freestanding system, but they are designed to handle much smaller loads. The portable freestanding jib crane is often designed like a regular freestanding jib crane, except with counterweight bases and forklift pockets. They can usually lift up to 500 pounds for smaller spans, and 150 pounds for larger span applications.
Wall-mounted workstation jib cranes, on the other hand, offer 200-degree boom rotation, and bolt easily to an existing wall or column, as outlined above.

Workstation jib cranes increase productivity in general, through easy boom rotation and trolley movement. The trolley rolls effortlessly due to the workstation design, which improves overall efficiency while also systematically reducing hazardous exposures to workers. Overall, this provides a rapid return on investment. These systems reduce injuries and improve safety because very little force is required to start and stop the boom rotation and hoist trolley. Welding stations often require excellent coverage in circular areas not easily served by a main facility crane. Workstation jib cranes are easy to install, and using one per work area reduces worker downtime and ensures welders aren’t waiting for a shared system. Heavy lifting is eliminated with the help of these cost effective overhead systems, and manipulators, balancers, and vacuum attachments can be used depending on the application.

Workstation jib cranes most often handle lighter loads at lower duty cycles than their bridge and gantry crane counterparts. A “classic” application for jibs is to outfit an assembly floor with a series of jibs at individual work stations, which are then supported by an overhead crane to supplement full assemblies. But even for work areas that aren’t covered by a supplemental or full overhead crane assembly, workstation jib cranes are a viable solution for eliminating work hazards. Installing lightweight workstation jib cranes in welding areas not only eliminates hazards due to heavy lifting, it also eliminate hazards due to awkward postures and static positioning. Using motorized positioning devices is one way to eliminate any risk associated with manual material handling, but for most welding applications, a non-motorized, lightweight manual lift system is all that’s needed to get the job done quickly and safely.