Foundry Work and The Hazards
The Foundry industry dates back to 1480 when Vannoccio Biringuccio (1480-1539) first documented the foundry process in writing. In the 550 years since then, this industry has made many technological leaps and bounds, but the basic concepts of the industry are still the same.
Foundry work involves casting molten metal into a mould. Casting can be done manually by static casting or automatically by injection, dye, continuous, spin or spray casting. A typical process includes preparing a mould for casting, melting, pouring metal into the mould, and removing and finishing the casting.
There are two types of foundries: Ferrous foundries produce iron and steel castings. Non-ferrous foundries produce castings of copper-based alloys (brass, bronze and copper), aluminium-based alloys (lead, zinc, nickel, magnesium) and other alloys.
What are the Risks?
- Explosions and burns from molten metal and other hot materials
- Heat stress, heat stroke and fatigue from hot working conditions
- Respiratory effects from exposure to gases, vapours, fumes and dust
- Skin effects from contact with corrosive or sensitising chemicals
- Eye damage from light radiation, metal fragments, dust and chemical splashes
- Slips, trips and falls
- Joint, muscle sprains and strains
- Physical injuries from machinery and equipment e.g. by entanglement or crushing
- Health effects from machinery and equipment e.g. caused by vibration and noise
Molten Metal Explosions
- Steam explosions - Steam explosions are caused by introducing moisture into molten metal or by pouring molten metal onto materials containing moisture.
- Chemical Explosions - Chemical explosions can occur by introducing reactive chemical substances to molten metal directly or as a contaminant in charge material, causing gas pressure build-up within the molten metal.
Burns are a major source of injury in molten metal foundries and are generally caused by touching hot surfaces, radiation or splashing molten metal.
Working in hot conditions can be hazardous to health. Effects range from discomfort or heat rash to heat exhaustion or heat stroke which can cause permanent injury or death. Heat stress can occur without the worker being aware of how much they are affected until it is almost too late. It affects concentration, perception and decision making which can negatively affect behaviour and judgement.
Other factors besides furnace heat contribute to the body overheating for example:
- Excessive or unsafe clothing
- Unsuitable personal protective equipment (PPE)
- Job factors including strenuous work, sustained work and inadequate recovery time
- Seasonal factors including high air temperature and relative humidity, or low air movement
Eye disorders and skin burns may be caused by intense ultraviolet and infrared radiation from molten metal in furnaces, particularly around pouring areas and in welding operations.
Foundry workers may be exposed to hazards and risks from a range of hazardous chemicals.
Physical hazards are properties of chemicals created from chemical reactions. They can present a risk through incorrect handling or use and can often cause injury to people or damage to property. Examples include chemicals which are flammable, corrosive, explosive, or have oxidising properties.
One of the biggest potential hazards in foundries is physical hazards posed by some hazardous chemicals. Fires and explosions at foundries have caused deaths and substantial property damage.
Health hazards are properties of a chemical which can potentially cause adverse health effects. Exposure occurs by inhaling, skin contact or ingesting the chemical.
Foundry Workers' Safety
In the foundry, where heat and other hazards rise, safety isn't optional, it's essential. The proper protective clothing for furnace workers should be a priority.