Every year thousands of people start welding, either professional or recreationally and not all of them undergo adequate training, exposing themselves to unnecessary risks. Even though welding is a much safer occupation in 2020 than it was a few decades ago thanks to the impressive technological advancements in personal protective equipment (PPE) and more reliable tools, it’s important to have safety guidelines clearly defined in any workplace.
This article is meant to be a guide welding safety, covering topics such as common injuries, safety hazards, and also welding safety tips that must be followed – Welding Safety 101 if you will.
As we said, due to technological advancements in welding (like pulsed-laser), many of the hazards that used to be associated with welding are now non-existent. However, the same cannot be said for arc welding where a few safety hazards are still present.
Here are 4 of the biggest welding safety hazards:
The welding arc is so hot that it can burn the skin without ever coming in direct contact. These types of burns are known as flash burns that are caused by UV rays and bright flashes. Even more long-term damage (to the interior tissue) can be done by sparks or by the arc. The welding arc emits UV rays which is a form of radiation and wounds have the risk of being infected (if not treated properly in time).
Burns can also occur in the eyes (similar to sunburn) due to the bright flashes of UV rays. The molten or extremely hot metal can also pose serious safety issues to workers as they can easily burn even clothed skin.
When metal comes in contact with the welding arc, it starts to burn and the top layer, which is usually a coating of chemicals tends to evaporate, releasing different types of toxic fumes that can be inhaled by workers. Though individual toxic particles cannot be seen by the naked eye, welding fumes are characterized by the plume of fine dust (almost fog-like) that rises from the hot metal.
Metal fumes are often underestimated but they’re a serious health issue to welders as they cause a number of health problems ranging from fume fever (similar symptoms to flu), dizziness, unconsciousness to long-term damage to the respiratory and the nervous system. In severe cases, fumes can lead to lung cancer and even death.
Arc welders regularly work with voltages ranging from 20 volts to 100 volts and up to 575 volts inside the case of the welding machine, putting workers at risk of electric shocks. Electrocution at these levels can cause skin burns, spasms, muscle damage (and muscle paralysis), and death.
Even low voltage shocks can surprise the worker and cause them to fall or hurt themselves with the welding tools.
The extremely high temperature of the welding arc can easily cause burns but more often it’s the sparks flying around that cause clothes, furniture, paper, and other flammable items to catch fire or even explode.
It’s not unheard of for welders to get injured by metal shards flying into their eyes or skin, through toxic metal fumes, or cutting themselves by touching sharp or rough edges of metal. Welders and contractors often shrug off the possibility of heat exhaustion, heat strokes, overexertion, muscle cramps, back injuries, and repetitive strain injuries (RSI) like carpal tunnel and tarsal tunnel syndrome but they’re all serious possibilities.
According to the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA), when it comes to welding, eye injuries are the single most common type of injury. This statistic reveals two things – welders really want to protect their eyes as it’s the most vulnerable part in arc welding and regular eye protection is not enough.
There are different types of lenses available for visors and helmets that are used for different types of welding. For instance, a #12 filter is recommended for arc welding. Using the wrong lens can cause retinal damage, both short-term and long-term.
We also recommend getting auto-darkening helmets as they can auto-adjust the shade level so you can continue to protect your eyes while having excellent visibility.
Another extremely important part of PPE is gloves. When working with welding arc, regular gloves won’t do much to protect you so you must get a decent pair of welding gloves that are lined with Kevlar, giving your hands an extra layer of protection.
On top of this, you want to ensure that your gloves are completely dry before you handle any equipment as even a little bit of water can short electric current and increase the possibility of electrocution.
Sparks can easily burn your skin and clothes and while you’re definitely required to be covered from head to toe, your everyday clothes just won’t cut it as they can still catch fire. We recommend investing in a high-quality leather apron to wear over your clothes to protect yourself from sparks. Do not use a synthetic apron as it can catch fire just as easily as your normal cotton/woolen clothes (if not faster).
Welding can get very hot that will naturally lead to sweating but you definitely don’t want to work with voltage equipment in clothes that are wet with sweat. Leather boots are also important and ensure they’re complete as well, just like the rest of your clothing.
The fumes released by burning metal can be so toxic that it makes stripping and preparing the metal beforehand a necessity. Stripping refers to the process of removing the top layer of the metal that is generally a coating of chemicals meant to give the metal different characteristics (like strength, color, and durability).
However, it may not be possible to strip the top layer of the metal in every scenario, in which case, welders are recommended to use masks and fume or smoke extractor. These, generally very small machines (similar to a portable vacuum cleaner) help suck the toxic fumes away from the welder and improve ventilation, speaking of which…
Under all the helmets and heat, body temperatures can rise significantly and increase the chances of overexertion, heat exhaustion, and even heat strokes. Improving airflow by ensuring that there is enough ventilation and airflow will help with maintaining safe workplace temperatures, facilitate breathing, and improve morale among workers.
Before starting any welding work, look around the surface to ensure the workplace complies with OSHA’s safe workplace environment guidelines for welding.
Whether you’re a newly appointed welder or a master of your trade, reading manuals is always a good first step, especially when working with new equipment. It’s recommended to not experiment with torches or regulators under normal working circumstances (without additional safety precautions), instead stick to the guidelines.
Emergencies don’t knock. Prepare for every potential disaster beforehand. Basic disaster management should be included in the training and welders should be taught of the right procedures in different scenarios (fire, electrocution, explosion, etc). At the very least, fire extinguishers should be installed near the workplace where they are easily accessible by workers.
Welding safety is a broad topic with numerous to-dos and not-to-dos but we’ve compiled the most important topics and tips to ensure safety when welding.