Welding is a hazardous occupation, and never is that more true than when you consider the damage it can inflict on the eyes. Although ultraviolet (UV) and infrared (IR) rays might be the first welding risks that come to mind as the leading causes of eye damage, these are not the only hazards welders face.
What are the most common causes of eye damage when welding?
Among welders, foreign bodies (71.7%) and burns (22.2%) were the most common eye injuries. Pre- and post-welding processes, such as grinding, brushing, and chipping, can wreak havoc on a welder’s eyes unless they protect them. And welding fumes can cause a painful corneal inflammation called photokeratitis.
Needless to say, potential eye damage is nothing to take lightly. Fortunately, when welding professionals take the necessary safety measures to protect their eyes, they can mitigate the risks threatening their eyesight.
How does welding damage your eyes?
Welding can damage your eyes by absorbing radiation from the bright light produced at the welding arc and also from the molten metal. It might look like any other bright light, but it contains radiation that can reach your retina if you look directly at it without protection.
On their own, infrared rays cannot significantly impact the eye, but UV rays are another story. The cornea and lens can absorb ultraviolet radiation (UVR), resulting in swollen, painful eyes. It’s called arc eye, welder’s flash, or photokeratitis, a corneal sunburn.
Fortunately, the condition is not permanent, but the pain and swelling can be agonizing for a few days, with excessive watering, blinking, and blurred vision. And if flash burns are not treated quickly, infections may require further treatments. Furthermore, continually exposing your eyes to ultraviolet radiation can yellow them over time, causing you to struggle with contrasts in your vision.
What are some other causes of eye damage from welding?
Visible light can cause retinal damage, resulting in blue light hazards. Electromagnetic radiation can cause severe damage to the retina’s sensitivity, causing temporary or permanent retina damage, possibly leading to blindness.
Another condition called "surfer's eye," or pterygium, can develop due to exposure to UV rays. This benign tumor forms on the eye’s surface, irritating the cornea, impairing vision, and inducing edema. Sometimes surgery temporarily alleviates the symptoms, but the condition may return.
The light from the welding arc is so extreme that looking at it directly could cause dark spots in your vision, also called floaters. These spots are similar to those you experience from looking at the sun, and looking at a welding point will produce the same potentially dangerous eye floaters.
Cataracts are also caused by UV radiation, so welders are susceptible to this “opacification” of the eye lenses unless they take preventive measures. Also, age-related macular degeneration (AMD), often caused by UV exposure, is a top cause of blindness in those over sixty. Cataracts and AMD are among the leading causes of preventable blindness, and self-darkening welding helmets can help welders avoid them.
In addition to UV radiation, welders often sustain eye injuries from flying metal, grinding dirt, slag chips, chemical irritants, fumes, and gases, all of which are preventable.
Can welding damage the eyes of others nearby?
Although no specifically defined limits exist, the US Army carried out tests. It determined that distances between three and twenty meters with an exposure time of 10 minutes are below the UV exposure daily limit. However, a safe space also depends on the welding process, welding current, and specific environmental conditions.
Others believe all radiation from the welding arc is potentially dangerous, so there is no safe limit. The best advice is to play it safe and screen off the welding area to protect workers, the public, and everyone not equipped with adequate eye protection from the effects of the welding arc.
How can welders treat their eyes if they get hurt during welding?
Flash burns are the most common injury from accidentally looking at the welding arc. These burns often result in mild to severe pain, watering eyes, redness, blurred vision, or other symptoms.
Here are a few actions to consider:
- Wear sunglasses to lessen the irritation from bright lights
- Eye drops to relieve inflammation
- Over-the-counter pain medication
- Remove contact lenses
Do not rub your eyes since doing this can prolong the symptoms or cause corneal scarring. If you have problems with your eyesight, have someone drive you to a doctor, and they may refer you to an ophthalmologist for specialized treatment.
Here are several home remedies that many in the welding profession swear by:
Tea bags: Drinking black or green tea and placing tea bags over your eyes while lying down is a popular remedy for welder’s flash. Tea bags contain tannins, essential for reducing inflammation almost immediately. Your eyes will also feel better after drinking the tea because of the minerals in the tea.
Potatoes: Because they provide a cooling effect and minimize inflammation around the damaged eye, potatoes are an essential remedy for reducing the pain from the arc eye.
Milk: Milk contains natural enzymes vital in treating the dryness and itching related to welder’s flash. It’s also an effective method to lubricate and relieve pain in the affected eyes.
Rosewater: Rosewater has a cooling effect that relieves pain and irritation.
Ice packs: Ice packs do wonders for reducing pain, redness, and inflammation in the injured eyes.
Cucumbers: Cucumbers contain more water, helping with deep moisturization of the eyes.
Wet cloth: A damp cloth provides relief from pain and swelling.
How can you protect yourself from eye damage when welding?
To reduce the risk of eye damage, all welders must know the best safety practices for welding eye protection. As with any manufacturing occupation, personal protective equipment (PPE) is your most reliable tool to protect your eyes.
Here are the most effective PPE items to protect your eyes:
Welding helmets: Helmets shield the skin and eyes from sparks while protecting against vision-damaging infrared and ultraviolet rays. Welding helmets are designed to be worn over welding goggles or safety glasses and have filter shades appropriate to various types of welding.
There are two types of welding helmets: fixed-shade helmets that remain dark and auto-darkening helmets that automatically become dark when a welding arc is triggered. These helmets darken within milliseconds, always shielding you from hazardous emissions.
Safety glasses: Protect your eyes against flying foreign bodies when chipping or grinding by wearing safety glasses with side shields. Even if you don’t usually wear glasses, you will get accustomed to them quickly, especially if they fit comfortably. Make sure your glasses comply with national safety standards.
Safety goggles: Safety goggles have direct or indirect venting. Direct vent goggles have tiny openings on the sides to reduce fogging, while indirect vent goggles work well in areas of excessive-high dust and splash. Chemical goggles are also available for areas where fumes, mists, dust, or gases are present.
Face shields: Welders wear face shields over safety goggles and glasses to offer added impact protection to the entire face. Some face shields have filters to protect against radiation, sparks, and foreign bodies.
Tips for getting the most from your eye protection equipment
Knowing what safety equipment is available, you can take control to prevent eye damage in your workplace:
Replace any safety gear that is either outdated or worn out to provide maximum protection for your eyes.
Stay abreast of changes to OSHA requirements and welder regulations and follow them carefully.
Protect your eyes from welding injuries by staying at least 50 feet away from a welding coworker and wearing a welding helmet and safety glasses.
Make sure your eyes are healthy by visiting an eye doctor regularly. You might prevent welding-related eye issues or discover that you require glasses.
Keep your work area well-ventilated to help protect your eyes from fumes and dust.
Take responsibility for protecting your eyes as a welder.
All the protective equipment only does well if you consistently use it. Wearing helmets, goggles, and glasses will ensure that eye injuries caused by welding are not permanent. Although a welding helmet and safety glasses can be annoying or uncomfortable sometimes, they pay dividends by saving your eyes from flying sparks or bits of metal preventing painful and dangerous welder’s flashes. Wearing approved eye protection and understanding welding hazards helps you stay safe on the job.