When I think back to when I just started my welding career, around a decade ago, I cringe at what was back then the industry’s idea of what safety in the workplace entailed. Safety glasses and welding helmets were objects of ridicule, barely even mentioned in the workplace, and were shied away from at every opportunity.
Today, thankfully, things are much better, and worker safety has come to the forefront of the welding industry, mainly due to the large number of work-related injuries in the last decade (and, of course, less injuries mean less expenses for the company). So things have improved, and they’re only getting better. Let’s take a look at some of the most important welding safety procedures and tips.
5) Read The Operating Manual
Without a doubt the first thing to do when welding on a new machine is to read the operating manual, and make sure everyone whose going to use the machine has read the manual as well. The manual not only explains how to use the machine properly, but also contains important safety information and procedures. I’ve experienced too many cases of people not reading the manual and getting themselves into more trouble then it’s worth. This applies to any piece of welding equipment you might use, and not only the welder itself.
If the manual has been misplaced make sure to contact the manufacturer to get a new one. They can often be found online, but in the worst case the manufacturer will be able to ship one out by mail.
4) Do Not Leave Any Skin Exposed
Welding involves extremely high temperatures, as well as ultraviolet and infrared radiation emissions. What this means is that you do not want to leave ANY skin exposed to the outside world while welding – so make sure you’re wearing long pants and long shirts, make sure all your clothing is flame-resistant, and be sure to keep your safety glasses and welding helmet on at all times.
The weld arc can also release sparks which are able to catch onto open pockets, pant cuffs or even belt buckles. It’s one heck of a scare to look down only to find your clothing quietly smouldering, or even worse – your shoes. This leads me to my next point.
3) Wear The Right Shoes
You’ll feel this one rather quickly if you make the mistake of wearing flammable shoes, sports shoes, or any type of shoe not suitable for welding. I’ve experienced the results of a spark sizzling my shoes along with the dank stench of smouldering shoe soles firsthand, and let me tell you, it’s not a pleasant feeling (in addition to losing an awesome pair of running shoes!).
The best foot protection can be had with leather boots, preferably with heat-resistant soles, and without laces – although most leather-based high-top shoes will suffice.
2) Beware The Arc
Arc flash (https://www.osha.gov/dte/grant_materials/fy07/sh-16615-07/arc_flash_handout.pdf) is one of the most well-known and undesirable effects of unsafe welding, although it’s quite easily avoided if all the safety procedures are adhered to. What’s really scary about arc flash is that you might not realize you’ve gotten it until hours after the fact.
Safety glasses are a non-negotiable accessory while welding, and a good welding helmet is just as important. Make sure the lens shade of the helmet is right for the type of welding process and material you’re welding, and always wear the welding glasses beneath the helmet. This chart will help you decide which shade of helmet you need (https://www.osha.gov/Publications/OSHAfactsheet-eyeprotection-during-welding.pdf).
Finally, if using an auto darkening welding helmet, make sure the lens reaction time from light to dark mode is around 1/10,000 to 1/20,000 of a second. Some helmets reaction times can even reach up to 1/2,000 to 1/3,600 of a second, which is enough time to get flashed in many cases, even if the flash lasts for only a fraction of a second.
1) Watch What You Breathe
Breathable air can quickly be replaced by toxic fumes, smoke, or shielding gases while welding. Proper ventilation of the welding environment is of utmost importance, along with respirators for employees engaging in highly toxic welding processes. Employers are slowly starting to realize the importance of proper air ventilation in the workplace, as workers suffering from zinc poisoning and the like are less efficient and more expensive (insurance fees, sick days) than healthy workers.
A combination of portable fume extractors, good ceiling ventilation and personal respirators will ensure breathable air and reduce both short and long-terms effects of breathing in toxic fumes.
At the end of the day, every worker is responsible for his or her own safety, and should take steps to make sure they’re following all the safety guidelines. Don’t take unnecessary risks, and make sure to keep up to date on the safety procedures at your workplace. It can literally save your life.