Welding is the most widely used method for joining metals in today’s metalworking industries. It is highly effective, with welded joints often being stronger than the original separate pieces from which they were formed. However, the intense process of melting down and fusing metal brings up several welding safety issues. Whether gas welding, arc welding, oxygen cutting or arc cutting, welders face dangers such as burns, smoke, fumes, powerful heat and light radiation, and harmful dust. But, when a welder follows the appropriate safety steps, he can weld with confidence. Be mindful of these seven tips before firing up the flame.
1) Always wear a welding mask. Welding requires the worker to keep his face right up close to the welding site as he carefully performs his skilled task. The worker must thus wear proper personal protective equipment (PPE) for the face at all times for safety purposes and to prevent harm from radiant energy as well as weld sparks and splatter. Either a full helmet or a hand shield (handheld iron face protector) may be appropriate depending on the type of welding. Helmets and hand shields protect against arc rays, sparks and splatters that may strike directly against the shield during welding.
2) Protect your eyes. The eyes are at particular risk during the welding process, as serious, permanent damage may occur from any small spark or weld splatter making contact with the eye if the proper safety tips are not followed. Additionally, the eyes are at risk from the intense light that is created by the welding process. Arc flash, a painful eye condition, can result from only a second or two of unprotected eye exposure to arc rays. Helmets and shields should be equipped with a filter shade with an appropriately dark lens. Auto-darkening helmets are useful, as they can quickly adjust based on light conditions. A further layer of eye protection, such as goggles, should be worn to protect against impact hazards such as slag chips and grinding fragments that may ricochet under the helmet.
3) Wear the right clothing. Welding clothing should fully cover your body to guarantee safety. Ultraviolet and infrared rays can painfully damage any exposed skin. All garments should be flame resistant clothing. For instance, denim should be worn as opposed to cotton pants. A welder should wear a welding jacket made of flame-resistant cloth or leather, which offer surefire protection while also providing ease of movement. Heavy-duty welding gloves, which are now available with ergonomically curved fingers, should be worn at all times. Some kind of protective footwear should be worn, such as high-top leather boots to provide the best shielding.
4) Don’t give sparks space to catch. When preparing to weld, a welder should go over all clothing as a safety precaution to check whether there are any small spaces on his person where sparks might catch. Button up shirt collars, cuffs and pockets to avoid giving sparks a place to land and smolder, which may potentially lead to serious burns. Pants legs should go over shoes, and gloves over sleeves. Also, do not carry any lighters or matches, which may ignite when they come into contact with sparks or heat. Cover any garments that are not fireproof with the proper gear, like a welding apron or protective sleeves.
5) Ventilate the workspace. Welding creates smoke and fumes which may accumulate in a workspace and render the air toxic, particularly in confined spaces. Where a workspace is not large enough for natural ventilation to be sufficient, with at least 10,000 square feet of space per welder, then the workspace should contain a means of mechanical ventilation. Either a functioning exhaust hood or a high-vacuum system should be employed to eliminate fumes and maintain enough safely breathable air for all workers. Certain materials may also require additional PPE such as welding respirators to ensure your breathing safety.
6) Know your machine. While basic processes may be similar between different machines, the welder should always know the particular machine he is working with at any given time inside and out. Anyone who uses a machine should consult its manual to understand the mechanics and the particular recommended safety procedures recommended by the manufacturer. This may lead to more efficient as well as safer welding. Maintain a copy of the manual in the workspace for reference.
7) Make safety an ingrained part of the company culture. Proper safety should not be an occasional area of focus in a workplace. Rather, it should be everyone’s first priority and at the forefront of every welder’s mind. Employers should ensure that every employee is familiar with the appropriate safety tips and procedures, and welders should look out for each other to make sure they are always wearing all necessary PPE. With the right knowledge, welding accidents are highly preventable.