Whether you’re welding in an industrial setting, as an artist, or pursuing a hobby, you can do it safely as long as you take all of the proper precautions. Safety is always the most critical consideration for your welding projects because if you ignore the necessary safety measures, you could put yourself and others at risk.
Some of the potentially dangerous hazards include electric shock, fumes, gasses, fires, and even explosions. That’s why organizations such as the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) and the American Conference of Governmental Industrial Hygienists (ACGIH) have established guidelines to address important welding safety topics.
General welding safety tips
- Read and understand the manufacturer’s instructions for any equipment
- Review the pertinent material safety data sheets (MSDS)
- Follow the organization’s safety practices
- Conduct regular welding hazard assessments in the workplace
Here’s a look at five of the most common concerns for welders and a few welding safety tips to help you avoid them:
1. Electric Shock
Electric shock is an important welding safety topic, as it can be one of the most severe risks that welders face. That sudden discharge of electricity to the body can cause severe injury or death, either from the shock itself or from a fall that resulted from it.
The shock happens when a welder touches two metal objects that have a voltage between them, thus inserting themselves into the electrical circuit. For example, if someone holds two bare wires, one in each hand, the electrical current passes through that wire and the individual, causing an electric shock. Higher voltage means a higher risk for an electric shock that could cause injury or death.
Welding safety tips to avoid electric shock:
- Inspect welding equipment and electrode holder before welding
- Initiate lockout and tag out procedures when doing any machinery repairs
- Avoid touching the metal parts of the electrode holder with skin or wet clothing
2. Exposure to Fumes and Gasses
Welding fumes are made up of potentially dangerous complex metal oxide compounds from consumables, base metals, and the base-metal coatings. Welders must avoid direct fumes as much as possible by keeping their heads out of them and using plenty of ventilation and exhaust to minimize their exposure to the substances in the fumes.
Since overexposure to welding fumes and gases might cause serious health issues such as respiratory illnesses, cancer, and impaired speech and movement, it is regarded as an important welding safety topic. It’s crucial to take the steps below as part of your welding hazard assessment.
Welding safety tips to avoid overexposure to fumes and gases:
- Make sure there are adequate ventilation and exhaust to prevent fumes and gasses from entering your breathing zone
- Always wear an approved respirator unless exposure assessments show that fumes and gasses are below applicable exposure limits
- If you have concerns, report them to a supervisor so the welding fumes can be checked
3. Fire and explosions
Because the welding arc generates exceptionally high temperatures (up to 10,000 degrees Fahrenheit), it can present a significant fire and explosions hazard. The danger comes from this intense heat, along with the sparks and spatter that can reach up to 35 feet from the welding area.
Flammable materials within reach of weld spatter are the most significant cause of fires. These fires are easily prevented by ensuring a clean working area before starting to weld. Flammable materials are made up of three categories: liquid, such as gasoline, oil, and paint; solid, such as wood, cardboard, and paper; gas, including acetylene, propane, and hydrogen. Any of these flammables must be removed entirely from the welding area.
Part of your welding hazard assessment should also include knowing the location of fire alarms, emergency exits, and fire extinguishers in case of a fire.
4. Physical Hazards and Insufficient PPE
Other physical hazards can cause burns, cuts, eye damage, crushed toes, and broken fingers. However, with the proper personal protective equipment (PPE), you can safeguard against many of them. Choosing the right PPE provides adequate protection from physical hazards and still allows you to move freely.
Leather and flame-resistant treated cotton clothing are highly recommended for welding because of their fire resistance and durability. Synthetic materials like rayon and polyester are not preferred since they melt when exposed to high heat.
Welders should wear flame-resistant gloves to protect from burns, cuts, and scrapes. They will also afford some protection from electric shock as long as they are dry. Helmets with side shields are a must-have for keeping your eyes and skin protected from exposure to arc rays.
5. Noise Hazards
Noise-induced hearing loss can have the following side effects:
- Ringing in the ears (tinnitus)
- Occasional dizziness (vertigo)
- Increased heart rate
- High blood pressure
To avoid hearing impairment from prolonged high noise levels, you should always wear earplugs or earmuffs. They will reduce—or attenuate—the noise to which you are being exposed.
Don’t take chances. Protect yourself and your welding career from these five safety concerns and any others that you face as a welder!