5 Tips To Staying Safe While Welding
Last Updated: April 21, 2020
America suffers an average of 37 deaths per 100,000 steel industry workers, not including the many other welding industries like underwater welding, which has a 15 percent fatality rate. A further 500,000 welders per year are injured in accidents.
These are terrifying statistics when you weld every day, and even more frightening when you’re a hobbyist welder, as the safety standards lessen significantly in peoples’ own homes. However, this statistic doesn’t need to be so high. There will always be accidents, but the number can be reduced considerably with a few basic tips.
Wear Personal Protective Gear
Wearing personal protective gear is commonly talked about in the workforce. It’s one of the basic requirements for welding. There are very few people who weld without safety equipment, and those who refuse to don’t last long in welding or in life.
Welding boots are similar to work boots but can withstand electrical currents safely while bearing the heat and impact that a welding workshop puts on them. It’s not uncommon to have metal landing on your foot, so having a metaguard protects your feet from injury, and they’re also useful to keep your laces from getting burned.
Helmets designed for welding are crucial to protect your face and eyes from the harmful heat and UV radiation rays emitted during the welding process. Most welders wear helmets while they are running beads, but many won’t flip their helmets down when they’re tacking. This can cause burns in the short term, and have a severe long-term effect when you’re continuously exposed.
Gloves enable you to touch hot projects that have just been welded and stop spatter from burning holes into your hands. They also shield your skin from the UV radiation rays. These rays are not felt immediately during the welding process, but result in painful burns overnight and can also cause long-term skin problems like cancer.
Welding jackets are made from materials resistant to heat, fire, and spatter. If they’re not entirely resistant, they should be close to it. They are usually made of leather and have long arms and a turtleneck feature that keeps you safe from neck burns or spatter falling into your jacket. Not all welders wear them, as some people stick to wearing overalls, but a welding jacket ensures you’re much safer than with any other piece of clothing.
Respirators are devices you wear over your mouth to breathe clean air through. They either remove harmful gases and substances from the air through filters, or they bring in clean air from a different environment for you to breathe. They don’t fit inside all helmets, but there is a range of welding helmets that do have enough room for them.
Keep Electrically Safe
Electrical welding harnesses high levels of voltage to produce an arc that burns tens of thousands of degrees in temperature to melt metal. These high volts are enough to kill a person instantly. The safety features of modern welding machines are designed to protect you from electrocution much more effectively than older welders, but there are still critical risks when using them.
Small shocks are a common occurrence for welders, especially when there is moisture around, but this can easily breed complacency among those frequently under the hood. Any adjustments made inside the welding machine, where electrically active components live, must only be made when the welder is switched off.
Welding in the rain should be avoided, as the electrical risk increases significantly. However, sometimes it is necessary, and using the correct gear will ensure you’re much safer. The safety gear includes insulated gloves, a water-resistant power lead with a residual current device, welding covers, and water-resistant welding jackets. These items can help protect you from electric shocks.
Keep Heat from Burning You
Heat is the central element of welding and not something that can be eliminated. However, its potential to harm you can be. Gloves usually keep the hot metal from giving you severe burns, but they aren’t designed to be completely heatproof, and care should still be taken when wearing them.
The way you handle hot objects and the way you weld are the best ways to mitigate burns. If you’re cramped into a tight space, wearing a small-space welding mask with a headcover will minimize head burns. However, positioning yourself to weld without sparks, spatter, or heat coming too close to your body is vital also. It’s sometimes more difficult to weld with these adjustments, but it will save your body in the long run.
Welding overhead is another situation where people get burned often. Not all helmets cover the top of your head, so if you’re directly under where you’re welding, it’s easy to get sparks and molten metal in your hair and down your jacket. Therefore, positioning yourself as far to the side as possible before you weld helps. Using a stepladder to get up higher out of the way if possible will also protect you from burns.
If you keep yourself away from the heat as much as possible while still maintaining quality welds, your chances of getting burned will drop significantly.
Breathe Fresh Air
Electrical welding primarily uses inert and nontoxic gases that don’t pose much risk to your health. The inert gases aren’t dangerous to breathe small amounts of, but they will cause asphyxiation if they replace enough oxygen.
Other, more toxic gases disperse from the weld when contaminants and coatings on the metal’s surface are burned. These are very unhealthy for you and can cause short- and long-term sickness, and even fatality. You need protection against even small amounts.
It’s good practice to weld with a respirator or have an extractor fan to suck the welding fumes out of the area where you’re welding. This is especially useful when you’re in confined spaces, as gases get trapped in the area you’re welding in. The extractor fan ensures you have sufficient oxygen to breathe.
Gas detectors are also used in confined spaces to gauge the oxygen content. They notify you if oxygen levels start minimizing. They also pick up other gases that are harmful to you.
Sometimes blowers and fans are used to blow the welding gases away and give you fresh air. This can be useful, but it isn’t the best option, as it can blow away the shielding gas if you’re MIG or TIG welding and lessen your weld quality.
Minimize Fire Hazards
Fire is one of the most dangerous aspects of welding, as the heat involved in the process is enough to cause certain materials to combust instantly or catch fire. While the metal itself poses very little threat as it’s not flammable, often other materials around the area you’re welding can ignite.
It pays to keep a fire extinguisher nearby in case a fire breaks out, as fires can spread rapidly once started. It’s also important to note that fires don’t always start immediately, and can easily burn down a workshop if you’re not aware.
A welding shop next door to our place burned down recently because the owner left a vehicle he was welding to deal with a customer. Everything looked fine when he left, but the heat of the weld was secretly igniting some nearby material. Within minutes, what looked normal was turned into a raging fire that destroyed his entire workshop.
If there is any flammable material near where you weld, having someone watch the area for up to an hour will ensure something you can’t see doesn’t smolder into a fire. Rags, fuel, and wood are materials commonly found in workshops that pose a threat. Sometimes these can catch fire instantly while you’re under the hood, so it’s important to keep them away from the section that’s being welded.
There are many risks associated with welding, and most of the injuries come through carelessness. Stopping before you weld to think about the hazards will ensure you can come up with a plan to keep you and anyone around you safe.
Some businesses lack the necessary safety standards to keep their workshops reducing risks, and it can be difficult to stay safe in these environments. However, no worker has to put their body on the line. Doing your part to keep safe will mitigate some of the danger in this kind of workplace, but sometimes the best option is to talk to your management or workplace authorities to create a safer working environment.
Hobbyist welding should also be treated with as much caution as full-time work. The risk factor is high due to the lack of experience and safety systems often found in homes. Your well-being and extension of life are more important than money or getting a job done. Any hassle in the process of keeping safe will prove worthwhile in the long run.
We hope you have found this helpful and will make sure you and those around you are safe while welding.