Soldering throws up a host of health and safety issues and not only because of the hot flame. John Dabb, Sales and Marketing Director at Hyde, looks at the potential pitfalls of soldering solutions and how to guard against them.
The importance of having the correct health and safety procedures in place when soldering pipework is well documented and makes good sense. With the presence of a naked flame, it stands to reason that only someone who knows what they’re doing should be in charge of it, that a hot works licence should be in place and that the necessary measures should be taken to guard against potential fire risks, damage to fittings and fixtures and, of course, injury to the installer.
So much attention is given to that naked flame, though, that there is a danger that other health risks can slip through the net. For anyone working with plumbing solutions such as fluxes and markers, it is really important to ensure that they are not exposed to the harmful chemicals these so often contain.
Installers using fluxes with lead or other toxic materials are exposed to noxious fumes, which are heated and breathed in countless times throughout an average working day. The effects of breathing in such fumes may not be noticed initially, and perhaps not at all if they are used infrequently, but over time they may well make themselves felt, and can have a serious impact on your health as a result.
State of flux
Some soldering fluxes are also acidic, which means they are not only harmful to breathe in but can cause damage to your skin too. Avoiding painful and potentially career-limiting burns is about more than just wearing protective gloves and clothing though. In reality, when you are working at pace and want to ensure accuracy, the most effective form of protection is to opt for a flux that is non-toxic and lead-free.
One such solution is LA-CO Flux, a non-acidic, non-toxic and lead free flux that takes the stress out of applying paste to pipes when soldering. Not harmful to breathe in, the risk of acid burns to the skin is also eradicated. As well as putting safety first, LA-CO Flux is water soluble for faster flushing from pipelines, while its super detergent action cleans as it solders to maximise efficiency.
Markers are another soldering tool that, while seemingly harmless, can hide some nasty health risks. Some markers contain xylene, a toxic chemical that, like lead, can lead to potentially serious illnesses from exposure over a long period of time. A healthy alternative is to opt for a marker that is xylene-free, such as the Pro-Line HT liquid paint marker from Markal. Safe for the environment as well as for your health, these markers, available in a variety of colours, feature PrismaLock technology, which locks in colour for bright, bold marks that can withstand temperatures of up to 1,800°F (982°C). By using speciality pigments and resins, this fast-drying paint offers high durability and mark readability, with some colours retaining easily legible marks up to 2,200°F (1,204°C).
If you solder pipework regularly, chances are you always have a pot of flux and a marker or two in your tool bag, so for the good of your health, it is important to look at the labelling on these products next time you stock up.
Quality brands will be proud of their non-toxic, non-harmful ingredients, and will shout about them on their packaging, making them easy to find. Just as you would check the ingredients on food packaging if you had any known intolerances, so it is just as important to check that the soldering solutions you are working with daily won’t compromise your health long after the hot flame has gone out.