Welding has been around since the 1800s and plays a key role in modern metal fabrication. As time passed, people have come up with more efficient ways to weld faster and more accurately. Through modern day welding, we are able to build skyscrapers and huge ships more efficiently than ever before. But, with welding comes a lot of safety hazards as it’s a high risk job.
Welding may not see that dangerous, but when you’re working with gas flames, lasers, molten metals and electric sparks, situations can become life threatening. That’s why wearing proper welding safety equipment is necessary in order to practice welding safely and to avoid potential injury. In today’s blog post, we’re going to cover some of the more common welding hazards, how they can affect you and how to avoid them.
Physical Burn Injuries
When it comes to the most common types of welding related physical injuries, cuts, burns, eye damage, and smashed fingers and toes are all very common, but the top physical injuries are burns. Welding looks pretty cool due to the sparks that fly off from the weld, but in fact these sparks are a potential fire hazard as they can reach up to 35 feet away from the welding area. This can be extremely dangerous for welders that may have some grease on their clothing. If not careful, welders can accidently burn themselves.
Another form of a potential physical injury occurs from the radiation that is generated from the welding torch which can burn the eyes. It is known as welder’s flash. Welder’s flash can essentially burn the cornea which protects a person’s eye and can even cause permanent blindness in severe cases.
Welders should always protect their heads. Welding helmets and face shields are your best friend when on the job. They can be made with different levels of filter lenses that protect against the amount of radiation generated by the weld. Auto darkening lenses are great because they will automatically darken based on light sensitivity which makes it easier for the welder to see in different situations and be protected at all times.
To avoid other potential injuries, it’s important to make sure the work area is clear of any flammable items. Always keep a fire extinguisher on hand and make sure that the work area isn’t too dusty as excess particles can oxidize and cause a flash fire or explosion. And, always wear your protective gear such as dry or leather gloves, fire resistant clothing and boots.
Welding requires electricity which makes electric shock one of the more dangerous welding related injuries as it’s a constant hazard. Electric shock is very serious because a sudden shock that is strong enough can result in death. If the shock isn’t too strong it can still cause a person to fall and further injure themselves, especially if falling from a high place. When it comes to the amount of voltage that can cause death, typically it takes over 100 volts of electricity to do so, but at times a voltage under 100 can also be lethal depending on the conditions.
There are two types of shock accidents that can occur: primary shock and secondary shock. The most common in the welding industry is secondary shock which ranges from 20 – 100 volts. In order to avoid electric shock, here are some guidelines welders should follow:
- All equipment should be dry and in good condition
- Welders must wear dry welding gloves and never touch any sort of electrical rods with their bare hands or wet clothes
- Always keep yourself insulated from the ground and the work that is being conducted
- Make sure to inspect welding equipment before doing any work
Dangerous respiratory hazards are a common concern that are caused by welding itself. Various invisible fumes like carbon monoxide are emitted during the welding process and can cause minor illnesses like asthma, to major diseases like cancer. The welding fumes are a mixture of metal fumes and gases which typically look like white smoke that rises directly above the welding spot.
In fact, welding fumes are toxic to humans and are classified as a group 1 carcinogen, according to the International Agency for Research on Cancer (IARC) in the 2017 Lancet Report. This means that people who work in the welding industry run the risk of contracting cancer in the long term as there is a direct relationship between inhaling welding fumes and cancer.
In order to keep welders as safe as possible from these toxic fumes, OSHA has set exposure limits that welders can be exposed to during the work week and the duration of their welding careers. Welding fume exposure also intensifies when there isn’t sufficient ventilation and when welders don’t wear their protective equipment or take it off before the project is complete.
In order to keep welders at minimal risk of fume inhalation, employers are required to provide information and training on potential hazardous materials in the workplace. If the work area does not have sufficient ventilation, employers will provide workers with a fan or some sort of exhaust system to ventilate the work area. Other precautionary measures include the use of fume extraction welding guns which basically act as a vacuum and sucks in the excess fumes that arise from the work area. If workplace practices and ventilation does not help reduce the amount of fumes that welders are exposed to, air respirators are essentially the last resort.
The Importance of PPE
When it comes to the welding industry, welders are facing potential hazards to their entire bodies on a daily basis. To make sure they are protected, they must wear proper personal protective equipment at all times, from head to toe.
- Eyes & Head Protection – Wearing a welding helmet cannot be stressed enough. Your head is the most critical part of your body to protect as it includes the eyes, face and ears. Helmets protect welders from UV radiation, sparks, heat and electric shock. Make sure to choose the right lens for your welding purposes or stick to a lens that shifts according to the level of light radiating from the work area. Wearing ear plugs will also help with loud noise and protect against sparks or debris from getting into the ears.
- Protective Clothing – Always try to wear fire resistant clothing that covers your body. Exposed skin is not ideal as it can easily be burned by flying sparks and spatter. Protective clothing pieces consist of aprons, jackets, in-sleeves, coveralls and leggings. Clothing should be made of appropriate materials like flame-resistant treated cotton and leather, which won’t melt during the welding process.
- Protective Boots – The feet may be the least of all concerns but it’s still an important area to protect. Again, the pesky sparks that spatter off from the welding area can accidently fall into your boot and cause burns. That’s why it’s important to make sure that your pants are worn over your boots and not tucked in. Having heat resistant boots that are slip resistant is key, along with metatarsal guards which help with protecting your foot from heavy falling objects and sparks.
Very commonly, there are some experienced welders that don’t like wearing personal protective equipment as it can get very hot, but sometimes the most basic safety standards are the most critical in avoiding these welding related injuries.
Here at Wagner Welding Supply, we always practice and advocate for safety during any welding procedures. We have everything you need from apparel and face shields to tools and steel for your next welding project. As your local one stop shop for your welding needs, we are here to help and happy to serve you. Feel free to call us at 303-776-1491 or visit our shop in Longmont for your welding equipment.