Oxy-fuel welding and cutting: Beyond the risk assessment
23 January 2013
When it comes to oxy-acetylene welding or cutting, consideration needs to be given towhat should happen after the risk assessment has taken place - and this is where many companies fall short says Paul Woodford If usi
If using oxy-acetylene welding & cutting equipment in the working environment, there is a legal requirement under the Management of Health & Safety at Work Regulations (S.I. 3242 of 19999) to carry out a formal risk assessment. This provides a careful examination of what could cause harm to people so that companies can weigh up whether enough precautions have been taken or more should be done to prevent harm to the workforce. While the law does not expect companies to eliminate all risks, the onus is on protecting people where it is 'reasonably practicable'. As this is a legal requirement, it is reasonable to assume that the overwhelming majority of companies carry out risk assessments.
Those that don't may feel the full weight of the law in the event of an incident.
When it comes to oxy-acetylene welding or cutting, consideration needs to be given to what should happen after the risk assessment has taken place - and this is where many companies fall short, since from here on in, it's more about Codes of Practice rather than any legally binding requirement.
So what is the Code of Practice? The British Compressed Gases Association is recognised by the Health and Safety Executive as an independent expert with the confidence and knowledge to lay down in "Code of Practice CP7 - The Safe use of Oxy-Fuel Equipment (Individual Portable or Mobile Cylinder Supply)," all the essential practices. It is worth pointing out that failure to comply with this Code is not in itself an offence, but, in case of an incident, a company may be invited to explain how its operation ensured at least an equal level of safety to that provided by CP7.
CP7 provides detailed information on the continuing inspection of oxy-fuel equipment, its safe use, its maintenance and its replacement within safe time limits as well as manufacturers' recommendations.
The latest version is Revision 5: 2008 and it includes terminology and definitions of equipment within this category including properties of gases, process hazards, the application of the Pressure Systems Safety Regulations, safety precautions for equipment, provision of safety devices, operational safety, cylinder handling and storage, preparation for use, closing down and maintenance procedures. A Tabulated Guidance on Maintenance spells out visual and physical inspection procedures, tests, replacement refurbishment intervals and guidelines for regulators, flashback arrestors, hose assemblies, blow pipes and cylinder valves with integrated pressure regulators (VIPR). This critical information and adaptation of the procedures discussed is vital for all companies to follow in order to maximise the benefits of having carried out the risk assessment.
How to actually carry out the inspections, checks and procedures as laid out in the Code of Practice is a further area of consideration. Do you have experienced in-house staff to carry out these tasks? Do you know a third party, such as your equipment supplier, who may undertake this work? Do you need to get an existing employee to obtain Gas Inspection Certification or indeed be recertified if he has undertaken this work in the past? The essential requirement is for the employee to be demonstrably competent, which may be by a combination of training and experience.
If companies do not already have qualified personnel, there are opportunities for them to attend training courses in order to become formally competent. Selecting actual courses is a matter of choice. It pays to shop around and compare course prices and content.
Any course that offers delegates certification by London City and Guilds is definitely worthy of consideration and most likely to bring the peace of mind - and competence - that you require.
Standards and practices relating to oxy-fuel cutting and welding safety are the subject of continual change - especially with the globalisation of national and European standards. Your gas inspectors need to be kept fully up to date to keep you onside and your workplace and staff safe.
Paul Woodford is product manager for Gas Equipment, Murex Welding Products