The foundry work environment presents dangerous conditions, particularly around furnaces and other equipment used in the production of metal castings. Typical foundry processes involving molten metal are conducted at high temperatures, may emit noxious fumes, produces excess noise, and presents other hazardous conditions. These conditions make it a dangerous line of work for foundry professionals.
Manufacturing organizations are aware of the risks involved, and the potential for serious accidents, in foundries. There are even professionals dedicated to minimizing these risks by adopting and implementing appropriate safety measures.
The main health and environmental hazards of a foundry include the following:
- Hazardous substances and dangerous goods
- Gases, vapors, dust, and fumes
- Noise and vibration
- Molten metal
- Dangers associated with the operation of the plant, machinery, and electrical components
A safe environment is a must for the protection of the workforce performing foundry work. It is essential that companies provide suitably designed machinery, proper ventilation, and proper personal protective equipment (PPE) for their foundry floor staff according to all local, state, and federal regulations.
Let’s examine some essential elements of safety and environmental protection in foundries in greater detail.
Personal protective equipment (PPE)
The clothing and accessories provided for work-related duties in a foundry should cover exposed skin. Clothing should be made of natural materials like leather, heavy wool, or heavy cotton to protect against hot gases, dust, and burns. No synthetics, such as polyester or nylon, should be worn. Footwear must be classified for heavy industrial work environments. Workers should wear full face shields and safety glasses to reduce or eliminate the risk of eye or face injury.
Reduce impurities in metal
Molten metal emits fumes. Any impurities on the surface of the molten metal may increase the risk of breathing problems. Impurities can increase the amount of dross that must be removed, thereby increasing a worker’s exposure to harmful substances.
Know what you’re melting
Always learn about the metal being used before work begins. Different metals have different characteristics like melting temperatures. Alloy elements like lead, zinc, mercury, or beryllium are especially dangerous. It’s better to know the health risks associated with handling these elements before exposure happens, so all the necessary precautions can be taken.
Inspection before use
The timely inspection of foundry machinery is an important step in ensuring worker safety. It is critical that an employee check the condition of equipment they are operating, including the condition of furnace walls, fuel lines, burners, and pouring equipment. Any defect or failure in these items during a melt or pour can be extremely dangerous.
Plan an emergency exit route
Foundry staff must be trained on their company’s evacuation plan and how to react in other emergency situations. For example, do you know what to do in the event of a metal leak due to flask failure, a cracked crucible, or a failure in the pouring hardware?
Water or moisture that manages to get below the surface of liquid metal in the furnace or mold is a ticking time bomb. This is why furnace inspection prior to metal casting is essential.
Watch for leaks
That strange aroma you smell could be the melt that just leaked from the back of the flask trickling along the floor and now eating away at the soles of your boots. Gas leaks are bad news too.
Keep dry sand
Have a DRY pile of sand and a shovel ready to put out fires or to control metal spills.
Despite the best planning, precautions, and care, sometimes accidents happen. It is advisable to be prepared for the worst. Basic first aid may need to be administered before help arrives. The workplace must have a working phone to call for emergency services.
The commitment of management, effective communication, and timely training is important to ensure the safety and health of all employees, the community, and the protection of the environment.
Keep in mind there is no substitute for taking the time to identify possible hazards in a foundry and finding ways to mitigate the risk.
THORS foundry courses provide a comprehensive amount of information related to foundry operations.