Safety Concerns: Common Welding Related Issues
It's easy to lose track of safety while welding. There, I've said it and I admit it. I've goofed up. I've taken short cuts and risks that might make a risk manager take an extra antacid over. We all have if we've welded very long, and are honest, even if we think we are doing everything right. It's just too easy to leave off the PPE (personal protective equipment when we are performing welding related activities for comfort or convenience sake. Or to take some shortcut during welding that increases our chance of getting injured or hurt. Regardless of the circumstances, there are some definite risks associated with welding that we need to keep in mind and be aware of constantly.
Always get assistance when welding in a precarious position or welding on something that is precariously positioned itself. Don't weld something together that could break or snap or fall and injure you, especially if you are having to hold it together with one hand and weld with the other. It's a common thing to do, when tacking items together. Make things secure by always clamping items firmly. Never underestimate the number of clamps needed for the job, either. Always have a few spare handy. Sliding bar clamps offer an added advantage of being able to be operated with one hand. Also, keep in mind the value of someone there to help watch while you are welding or to help lift, position or hold an item. Back injuries are common among many weldors. It almost seems a forgone conclusion that an older weldor will have a bad back and hobble around the job site. As unfortunate as this is, it's made more unfortunate due to the fact that it is preventable to a large degree.
Eye concerns are chief among most welders, and rightfully so. Welding is hard on the eyes, not only from an eye strain point of view, but from the harmful radiation that comes from the welding arc. It can result in diminished vision over the years and certainly in the short term, painful eye problems. Flashing is a frequent problem, either while working around other welders or accidentally striking an arc without the welding hood in place. Back flash, or where the welding arc light is bouncing off objects from behind and into the welding mask can create a problem as well. Utilizing a pair of safety glasses under the welding helmet can increase protection from both flying sparks but also from UV and IR exposure. Many higher end safety glasses offer full UV and IR protection even when not tinted and can help protect against long term eye damage. Even cheaper safety glasses with a light shade can offer some protection against accidental flashes and back flash. Welding hoods should be kept free of cracks and holes as well. Small fissures in welding helmets will allow large amounts of UV radiation to penetrate, and cause eye damage quite quickly. Any welding helmet not functioning correctly, or is in a poor state of repair should be discarded or repaired before use. Whether or not proper eye protection is used, can make the difference between complete blindness or near perfect vision in short order.
One of the most often ignored safety points is neglecting to wear gloves and arm covering. Whether it's a denim shirt with short cuff gloves, or welding sleeves and long cuff gloves, it is imperative that some arm and hand protection be worn. The intense exposure to the welding arc can lead to almost immediate sunburn. Fair and dark complexions are both at risk due to the high level of UV given off by the welding arc. Neither are immune to long term exposure effects either. A cotton welding jacket or shirt is all that is needed to prevent serious damage. However, be aware that many light weaves still allow UV rays to pass through. Gloves can be hot, but they are a necessary evil to protect against arc burn, accidental shock and of course physical heat burns as well. Stay away from nylon or synthetic materials unless they are specifically rated for welding. Keep in mind Skin cancer is always waiting around the corner for every weldor.
Electrocution is a real, but not often discussed, safety issue related to welding. Though fatality is rare, it does happen. Unfortunately when it does happen it's usually found that it was preventable. But even if the shock does not lead to death it can be painful and cause serious problems. Anyone welding for almost any length of time will experience electrical shock. The important point is to treat the welding equipment with respect, and care. Make sure all cables are free from holes and tears in the sheathing, and that welding torches are not broken or have bare metal parts exposed that can be easily touched while welding. Periodically inspect the welding area for standing water, and inspect the welders themselves for electrical issues. Of course, never weld in the rain or while wet. Sweat can also be a recipe for getting shocked. This is a real daily issue to battle while welding. It's almost impossible for most people to avoid. Further care should be taken to prevent the full body from coming into contact with parts being welded, especially the parts that would pass current directly through the heart, especially if sweating.
Safety is always a concern in almost any occupation, but Welding has a greater potential for accident than many others. This is only a high point discussion of basic welding safety. There's much more. If you are interested in welding or currently learning to weld, read every available resource and pay attention to manufacturer instructions. If you don't have a manual for a machine, find one, and read it before you operate it. There's no substitute for diligence when it comes to safety.