Researchers study benefits of prototype welding system

Published on June 15, 2016

Many jobs and occupational tasks expose workers to multiple health hazards, and a recent study by researchers at the University of Iowa demonstrates the importance of using a multidisciplinary approach to hazard evaluation and control.

Welding shear stud connectors to structural steel is a common task in commercial building and bridge construction. The task requires structural ironworkers to adopt a stooped posture for prolonged periods of time, which can increase the risk back injuries. The stooped posture also increases these workers’ exposure to inhalation of welding fume containing nanoscopic metal particles, which is associated with a variety of respiratory and neurologic outcomes.

Nathan Fethke and Thomas Peters, both faculty in the Department of Occupational and Environmental Health, partnered with a local ironworker apprenticeship training facility to evaluate a novel prototype system that allows ironworkers to stand when welding shear stud connectors. Results of their evaluation were published in the April 2016 issue of The Annals of Occupational Hygiene. Compared to conventional methods, use of the prototype system substantially improved back posture and reduced the concentration of welding fume in the breathing zone.

As with most prototype designs, however, refinement is necessary before the system is usable in the field.

“The prototype was successful in reducing exposure to welding fume, but certain limitations were apparent that may necessitate additional fume control,” says Fethke. He also indicated that work is needed to increase general durability and usability of the upright system, and to reduce other aspects of biomechanical demands in addition to poor posture (such as muscle effort).

According to Fethke, a major strength of the study was its consideration of both ergonomics and industrial hygiene in the approach.

“Engineering interventions to reduce occupational injury and illness are frequently designed to address a single exposure or problem, or are evaluated using the sometimes narrow lens of one particular discipline,” Fethke noted. “I believe the multiple occupational safety and health disciplines represented on our research team greatly contributed to the overall success of the project. We also had a heck of a lot of fun working together.”

In addition to Fethke and Peters, the research team included Stephanie Leonard and Mahmoud Metwali from the Department of Occupational and Environmental Health, along with Imali Mudunkotuwa from the UI’s Department of Chemistry.

This study was supported by the Center for Construction Research and Training through its cooperative agreement with the National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health (NIOSH).

To read the full paper, visit: http://annhyg.oxfordjournals.org/content/60/3/387.full.pdf+html