November 17, 2017

Electrofusion: Addressing safety and quality concerns


As long as it is implemented meticulously, electrofusion can be a practical and safe joining method in complex projects in the mining sector.

More often than not, upon investigation, several cases of electrofusion failure that are recorded are down to the implementation of incorrect procedures by untrained and/or uncertified workers, or solely by unqualified individuals, who should know better, deliberately cutting corners. In fact, Willem Liebenberg, Technical Manager of South African Plastic Pipe Manufacturers Association (SAPPMA), contends that poor installation procedure could be behind close to 80 per cent of electrofusion failures.  “Oversight in following the process of electrofusion increases the likelihood of joint failure, which compromises pipe system effectiveness,” he says.

Fundamental factors

It is easy to forget that despite advances in technology which is incorporated in butt welding equipment, three fundamental factors remain relevant in electrofusion and have to be adhered to dutifully: time, desired temperature and contact pressure between the surfaces. In other words, a quality joint can only be produced by using the right equipment, process and within the required time.

“The most important fact to note is that an electrofusion joint is done in accordance with the manufacturer’s installation procedures or guidelines,” stresses Liebenberg.

Safety issues

For all the well-documented advantages it has brought to pipe jointing tasks, which would have otherwise be complex to execute, there are safety risks associated with electrofusion. In actual fact, information documented from incidents in Africa and other parts of the world highlights the need for enhancing safety measures in electrofusion.

There are a number of risks which the operator of butt welding equipment is exposed to, which are mainly the following:

  • Risk of Electrical Shock
  • Risk of manual handling injuries while transporting equipment
  • Risk of burns form contact with hot parts
  • Risk of eye injury

However, these are common risks on all types of material welding and are not an increased risk to electrofusion only. To deal with the above-mentioned risks, the following measures have to be followed:

  • Equipment should be serviced and calibrated and in date before use
  • Extreme cautioned should be exercised when equipment is to be used on landfill sites
  • All gas have to be vented and calibrated
  • Avoid walking or standing on cables
  • Heat resistant gloves are to be used at all times when working with hot components.
  • Eye protection to be worn at all times.
  • All protective equipment to be worn at all times
  • Only trained and competent operators to operate the equipment

From a safety perspective, it is advisable that all operators should be trained and licensed to competently handle a butt welding, guided through a series of checks.

To ensure operator safety, modern butt welding equipment comes with a range of provisions like proxy switches, two-handed operation, inspection cameras, dead-man switches, safety shutoff, safety welding and cooling pressures and times, data logging and remote communication, just to cite a few.

 Information credits: some information has been sourced from the World Poly, an Australian butt welding equipment manufacturer and adapted for publication in African Mining Brief

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