Because electric shocks can be expected in welding, many welders view them as minor annoyances rather than serious safety hazards. Of course, they don’t feel great, but what are the chances of electrocution? Do welding machines even have enough electrical power to cause that much harm? What is the actual danger?
What happens when someone gets shocked?
Electricity is primarily measured in volts, amps, and ohms, focusing on amps and ohms in welding. However, ohms, which measure resistance, play a significant role in electric shock. For example, a person with dry skin has around 100,000 ohms of resistance, while that person with wet skin provides only 1,000 ohms, meaning the electric shock could be much more dangerous if wet.
When you receive an electric shock, the electrons create a current by moving in ways they aren’t supposed to, and as this current travels through your body, it produces heat that can burn your tissue.
Also, humans produce electrical signals so they can function. An example of this is the signals telling your heart to beat, but during an electric shock, a current can travel to your heart, interfering with those electrical signals telling your heart when to beat. This impeding of the body’s signals is why cardiac arrest is often associated with electrical shock.
Can a welder electrocute you?
You might receive two types of shock from welding: primary and secondary. Primary shock occurs when you’re working inside the machine and touch a “hot” part while also touching the welding case or another grounded metal. Primary shock could involve anywhere from 110 volts to 600 volts (maybe even more!), depending on the type of welding machine you’re using.
Secondary shock happens when you touch a part of the welding or electrode circuit. Because secondary shock doesn’t require you to be inside the welding machine while the power is on, it occurs much more frequently but is less likely to pose a severe threat.
The argument against a welding machine electrocuting the operator is based on the fact that consumer welding machines typically run off a 120-volt home outlet, which is not sufficient to kill you. However, remembering the part that resistance plays in electrical shock, dry skin offers much more resistance, meaning you would likely survive a 120-volt shock. But as few as 50 volts might be enough to seriously injure or kill you if your skin is wet.
What types of welding have the highest risk of electrocution?
There is little doubt that underwater welding poses the most dangerous threat of welding categories. Although much of today’s underwater welding is carried out using dry chambers and welding robots, human divers still do wet welding, meaning welding while submerged in and surrounded by water.
Arc welding requires a live electrical circuit, exposing all arc welders using hand-held equipment to the risks of electric shock and electrical burns. The shock risk for MIG and TIG welding is lower since the welding current is typically switched on and off with a trigger or foot switch. Still, the electric shock hazard is a serious and immediate risk that arc welders face.
Welders make contact with “electrically hot” metal parts that can cause injury or death from the direct shock effect on the body or the fall resulting from the reaction to the shock. In most manual arc welding operations, the electric current ranges from 10 amps to 600 amps, and the lower rangers are enough to kill most people.
Can you get electrocuted stick welding?
Although electrocution is rare, shocks are common. A welding operator can get an electric shock by accidentally creating a bridge between the electrode and the workpiece with any body part. And increased electrical contact with the ground will increase the risk of shock. As with any arc welding method, working with wet gloves, hands, or garments or standing in water or around wet surfaces will increase the risk of shock or electrocution.
What are the expected effects of electrical shock?
Every human body conducts electricity; even low currents can cause serious health effects. Burns, muscle spasms, paralysis, or death can result depending on the current flowing through the body, its route, and how long the exposure lasts.
The National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health (NIOSH) reports currents passing through a human body in the milliampere (mA) range (1,000 mA=1 Amp). The estimated effects of 60 Hz AC currents that pass through the chest are shown in the following table:
Maximum current to grasp and let go
Respiratory muscle paralysis
Ventricular fibrillation threshold
Cardiac standstill with internal organ damage
A typical breaker opens the circuit.
How do you avoid electric shock when welding?
Training arc welders to check their equipment for correct installation on every job is an essential first step. If they find defects, report them to a supervisor immediately, and they should also ensure that all external connections are clean and tight.
Workplaces must also have safety protocols that prevent welders from being within reach of one another when they work on the same piece, ban jewelry from being worn in the workplace, and ensure arc welders are checking their external connections every day.
Here are more precautions to help prevent electric shock among welders:
- Frequently check that all cables are in excellent condition, which means no bare insulation or frayed wires.
- Protect the cables from tow motors and other vehicular traffic to ensure they are not damaged, cut, or pinched.
- Check that the electrode holder is insulated.
- Never replace the welding electrode using your bare hand or wearing a wet welding glove.
- Keep your hands and body dry during any welding operation.
- Never stand in water, avoid wet surfaces, and work only with dry hands or clothing.
- Ground the workpiece to a good electrical ground, and insulate yourself from the work and ground.
- Do not dip energized (hot) electrode holders in water.
- Never directly contact the live welding equipment parts and the workpiece.
- Wear personal protective equipment (PPE), including rubber boots and rubber pads, when performing arc welding in wet or high-humidity conditions. Wear rubber gloves under regular welding gloves in a damp environment.
- If you are welding steel or other conductive material, stand on an insulating mat during the operation.
- Place the welding transformer near the job, allowing you to switch it off, quickly cutting off the power source.
- Turn off the welding transformer during breaks or when it’s not in use. Detach the remaining welding electrode from the electrode holder before leaving the working area.
- Never hold or move the welding electrode holder and the welding return cable simultaneously when moving from one working position to another unless you have cut off the equipment’s power source.
Do not ignore the threat of electric shock.
Thousands of welders are injured trying to operate or repair faulty equipment yearly. Although it’s understandable that weld shops and other manufacturers hold on to failing welding machines to avoid investing in new equipment, sometimes it makes good financial sense to replace old and broken equipment with updated models that will increase productivity and keep your welding operators safe.
PrimeWeld is renowned as the leader in affordable welding tools that meet and exceed the needs of home and welding shops of all sizes. With our wide selection of TIG welders, MIG welders, plasma cutters, and multi-process welders, we can supply you with a machine to fit your applications and your budget.
Look at our accessories and our newest line of argon welding gas tanks, and you will surely agree that PrimeWeld is your one-stop shop for welding machines, shielding gas, accessories, and consumables.
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