Internationally there are many opportunities for welding professionals in the mining industry. A possible career path is that of fabrication engineering, which would typically involve examining drawings, determining material and equipment requirements, fabrication of parts, heat treatment of components, setting up tools and equipment and, of course, assembling structures by alignment and fit-up of sub-components for joining by welding.
Another career path is to be a welder, constructing and repairing metal products. The complexity of the tasks performed is dictated by the class of the welder. A first class welder uses qualified procedures which determine the welding methods to use, joint preparations, the choice of consumables, level of pre-heat and nature of any post weld heat treatment. Boiler makers and sheet metal workers can also follow a career in mining.
A welding professional wishing to take up the challenges in the mining industry has to be aware of the complications and pressures related to welding underground. Mining can be hazardous and welding underground adds to safety requirements.
According to Miningsafety.co.za, approximately six percent of fatal industrial fires are due to unsafe welding or cutting operations. Welding sparks can travel as far as five meters and spatter can bounce on the floor or fall through openings. The risks include; fire, explosion due to flammable gasses, radiation and heat burns to the body, electric shock, asphyxiation and illness due to the inhalation of toxic fumes from gases created and used. In South Africa, the legendary Kinross disaster was caused by a welding accident.
Sound training is the starting point in educating welders and supervisors with regards to possible hazards and how to guard against them. When welders are aware of the safety risks, they are forewarned to take the necessary precautions.
Such precautions include the removal of combustible materials before welding, cleaning all flammable substances from the surface and the use of normal fire hazard equipment, such as having fire extinguishers on hand, wearing protective clothing and a face shield. Respirators will protect the welder against inhaling fumes and gasses. Other safety precautions include having equipment checked regularly, turning off welders before touching electrical parts and avoiding any moisture while welding.
Clear guidelines to ensure safety in mining are included in various acts, such as the Occupational Health and Safety Act and guidelines published by The Department of Mineral Resources. The Safety, Health, Environment and Quality (SHEQ) officers at the mines are responsible for safe welding and can provide the correct guidelines.
The Chamber of Mines has produced a comprehensive guideline for safe welding operations in mining. The recommendations include doing a risk assessment before any welding is undertaken underground and keeping records of all aspects of cutting and welding operations. Cutting and welding underground must only be performed when the necessary safety permits have been issued by operational personnel. Training should include safe operation, inspection and checking of the equipment, maintenance and repairing of the equipment.
Despite the risks, welding is an important, integral part of mining operations and widely used for repairs and maintenance, it is obvious that the quality of welding is of pivotal importance, especially when applied in mining.
Etienne Nell, training services manager at the Southern African Institute of Welding (SAIW), says that the most important aspect of creating a career of welding in mining and ensuring safety is training. "The correct training can make the difference between life and death'. Etienne adds that all the SAIW courses are relevant to welding in mining and safety is an important component of the courses. Even so, SAIW considers that more can be done to improve safety.
Therefore, Etienne is currently preparing a new course for safety in welding operations which is aimed at welders and supervisory personnel. The Institute will be offering the new course before the end of the year and expects that the mining industry will make use of and benefit from this new training opportunity.
The Southern African Institute of Welding (SAIW), founded in 1948, is a not-for-profit organisation with a purpose to further standards in welding, fabrication and related technologies. The SAIW is active throughout the Southern African region, offering consultancy and support services, as well as a wide variety of welding and Non-Destructive Testing (NDT) courses that can combine into a SAIW and IIW (International Institute of Welding) diploma. For more information contact: 011 298 2100 or Southern African Institute of Welding