How to Prevent Soldering-Related Health Hazards
Whether you're creating custom cables, repairing home appliances, or working on a circuit board, there's no doubt that soldering plays an important role in making all sorts of electrical connections. And while it may be a routine part of your job, there are a few potential health hazards that can be linked to soldering itself as well as the materials involved, so it's important that you take the right steps to protect yourself from injury while you work.
Protecting Yourself from Rosin and Lead Fumes
The classic "head-bent-over-project" soldering position gives rosin fumes a direct route to your eyes, throat, nasal passages and lungs, and as a result, you can experience anything from eye and throat irritation to congestion and asthma-related breathing difficulties. And while it's far less likely to occur than rosin irritation, overexposure to lead is also a possibility, as toxic and potentially-carcinogenic lead oxide can be transported in fume form to your lungs, where it would then gain direct entry into your bloodstream.
The best way to prevent soldering fume inhalation is to install and ensure the proper maintenance of a local exhaust ventilation (LEV) system at each soldering station. These vacuum-like ventilation units remove the bulk of these fumes right at their source, before you or nearby coworkers have the chance to inhale them.
Preventing Colophony Dermatitis
If you think you may be allergic to rosin-based flux, an easy way to prevent outbreaks of colophony dermatitis is to simply prevent flux, and flux fumes, from getting onto your skin. If they're safe for your particular soldering application, wear close-fitting but flexible non-conductive gloves while working, and be careful not to touch your face or eyes while you're handling flux. After soldering, thoroughly wash your hands and forearms to remove any stray rosin residue that may be present.
Protecting Yourself from Burns
Whenever your soldering iron is in-hand, always stay keenly aware of exactly what you're doing – don't be tempted to look away or turn around to have a conversation while soldering. Being distracted while holding a searingly hot soldering iron can result in the heated tip making contact with your person and/or flammable materials at your workstation, which can lead to burns or the ignition of a fire. If you need to direct your attention toward someone or something else, always be sure to set your soldering iron safely down on its stand before you do so.
To reduce the risk of burns from melted solder and flux, you need to take two things into consideration: protective equipment, and your position while working. Since molten solder can both spit and drip, make it a point to always wear safety goggles and, if possible, gloves while soldering – they'll go a long way toward preventing burns should molten solder drip onto your skin or splatter toward your face.
When positioning yourself, keep gravity and visibility in mind – if soldering in the field, avoid standing or sitting directly below the object you're soldering; gravity can easily cause melted solder to drip downward and onto you. On the other hand, if you're soldering at a workbench, position your project and your hands so that you can clearly see the soldering iron tip and the component that you're working on.
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