Welding Safety Hazards
Welding operations present several hazards to both those undertaking the activity and others in the vicinity. Therefore, it’s important that you are aware of the risks and hazards welding poses, and understand what precautions you can take to protect yourself.
During the arc welding process, live electrical circuits are used to create a pool of molten metal. Therefore, when welding, you are at risk of experiencing an electric shock. Electric shock is the most serious hazard posed by welding and can result in serious injuries and fatalities, either through a direct shock or from a fall from height after a shock. You are also at risk of experiencing a secondary electric shock should you touch part of the welding or electrode circuit at the same time as touching the metal you are welding.
You are particularly at risk if you work in electrically hazardous conditions. These include welding:
- In damp conditions.
- While wearing wet clothing.
- On metal flooring or structures.
- In cramped conditions where you are required to lie, kneel or crouch.
When carrying out welding activities, you are likely to be exposed to loud, prolonged noises. A loud noise is considered to be above 85 dB(A), and welding activities such as flame cutting and air arc gouging can produce noise levels of over 100 dB(A). This can be very damaging to the ears and can result in hearing impairment.
Regular or immediate exposure to loud noises can cause permanent noise-induced hearing loss.
Noise-induced hearing loss can have the following side effects:
- Ringing in the ears, known as tinnitus.
- Occasional dizziness, known as vertigo.
- Increased heart rate.
- Increased blood pressure.
Exposure to UV and IR Radiation
Looking at the intense bloom of UV light produced when welding, without appropriate PPE or welding curtains, can result in a painful and sometimes long-lasting condition called arc-eye. Many factors can affect the severity of a flash burn injury, such as distance, duration and the angle of penetration. Long-term exposure to arc flashes could also potentially result in cataracts and lead to a loss of vision.
Other forms of eye damage include:
- Foreign bodies entering the eye, including grit, sparks and dust.
- Particulate fumes and gases, which could lead to conjunctivitis.
Exposure to Fumes and Gases
Undertaking welding activities will expose you to invisible gaseous fumes, including ozone, nitrogen oxides, chromium and nickel oxides, and carbon monoxide which can easily penetrate into your lungs. Depending on the gas or fume, the concentration and duration of your exposure, the resultant damage can be severe.
Illnesses caused by welding fumes and gases include:
- Pneumonia. Regular exposure to welding fumes and gases can result in a lung infection which could then develop into pneumonia. While antibiotics can usually stop the infection, severe pneumonia can result in hospitalization, serious illness and fatalities.
- Occupational asthma. Chromium oxides and nickel oxides produced by stainless steel and high nickel alloy welding can both cause asthma.
- Cancer. All welding fumes are internationally considered ‘carcinogenic’.
- Metal fume fever. Welding or hot work on galvanized metal and high steel weld fume exposure can often result in ‘flu-like’ symptoms, which are usually worse at the start of the working week. You might have heard that drinking milk before welding will help you avoid developing metal fume fever, but this is a myth.
- Throat and lung irritation, including throat dryness, tickling of the throat, coughing and tight chests.
The combination of high-temperature welding arcs, UV rays and molten metal means you are susceptible to severe burns when welding. These burns can affect the skin or eyes and can be very serious. They can also happen very quickly.
Burns usually occur when welders think they can skip taking precautions for a few quick welds. This is bad practice. If you follow our outlined precautions, you should be able to prevent burns.
Welding Safety Precautions
Ensuring high levels of safety is vital when undertaking any welding activity. Ignoring your PPE and safe working practices can have serious repercussions and might even lead to fatalities. Therefore, you should follow the safety precautions below to protect yourself at work.
Always Wear Appropriate PPE
Your employer or manager has a duty to provide you with appropriate Personal Protective Equipment (PPE). The PPE you receive will include:
- Welding helmets with side-shields. Welding helmets protect you from UV radiation, particles, debris, hot slag and chemical burns. It’s important that you wear the right lens shade for the work you are carrying out. follow the manufacturer’s guidelines and gradually adjust the lens filter until you have good visibility that does not irritate your eyes. You should also use a fire-resistant hood under your helmet to protect the back of your head.
- Respirators. Respirators protect you from fumes and oxides that the welding process creates. Your respirator must be suitable for the work you are carrying out.
- Fire resistant clothing. Fire resistant clothing protects you from heat, fire and radiation created in the welding process and shields you from burns. It should have no cuffs, and pockets must be covered by flaps or taped closed. You should not use synthetic clothing. Instead, opt for leather and flame-resistant treated cotton.
- Ear protection. Ear protection protects you from noise hazards. It’s important you wear ear protection that is appropriate for the noise created in your workplace, and use fire resistant ear muffs if there is a risk of sparks or splatter entering the ear.
- Boots and gloves. Insulated, flame resistant gloves and rubber-soled, steel toe-capped safety shoes shield you from electric shocks, heat, fire, burns and falling objects.
To receive full protection from your PPE, you must not:
- Roll up sleeves or trousers. Rolling up your clothes will leave you susceptible to molten metal or sparks getting caught in the folds, which could potentially lead to severe burns. You should also never tuck your trousers into your work boots.
- Remove your helmet while welding. You must always wear your helmet when welding and when in the vicinity of another welder. While the intensity of the radiation produced decreases the further you are from a welding arc, those less than 10 metres away are still susceptible to arc-eye. Therefore, it’s important that you remain behind welding curtains or wear the correct PPE, even if you aren’t the worker carrying out the welding operation.
Ensure Your Workspace is Well Ventilated.
Good ventilation is important when welding as it removes airborne gases and particles from your work area. You may need to employ a combination of ventilation strategies to combat all the pollutants created in the welding process. You might also need to use respirators if your ventilation strategies don’t reduce your exposure enough.
Ensure Your Workspace is Free of Flammable Material.
You should avoid keeping flammable materials in the vicinity of welding processes as sparks, heat and molten metal splatters produced in the welding process could potentially set flammable material on fire.