Welding can be particularly dangerous to those operating the equipment and others around the site if proper safety procedures aren’t used, risks aren’t considered, and safety standards aren’t met.
If you are reviewing how you can conduct welding tasks in a safer way, here are some major hazards to bear in mind and the personal protective equipment (PPE) designed to combat them.
Think about common hazards when welding
1. Welding in confined spaces
When operating in a confined environment, there is a serious risk that there could be a lack of oxygen that could result in an accident or injury.
The gases which are used in welding, such as argon, CO2, and nitrogen, can displace the air within an enclosed space, creating a risk of passing out.
Consider whether the work can be carried out without needing to enter the space, and if this isn’t possible then use a safe system of work and establish a rescue plan.
2. Exposure to gases and fumes
As well as gases creating suffocation risks, other gaseous fumes can damage your lungs. The level of damage will depend on the gas, but occupational asthma, pneumonia, and even cancer are all associated with specific fumes.
3. Electric shock
This is potentially the most serious risk with arc welding. Both TIG and MIG welders carry a risk of electric shock when used improperly, as live electrical circuits are utilised to heat the metals for welding.
Whether through a direct shock or through touching part of the welding, it could result in serious injury or fatality. Certain conditions, such as wearing damp clothing or being surrounded by metal flooring, can increase this risk.
As you’d likely expect from working with high-temperature welding arcs and molten metals, severe burns can occur when welding. These can happen incredibly fast if you’re not careful and skip safety protocols.
5. Fires and explosions
In addition to burning the person welding, sparks generated can fly as far as 35 feet away from the welding area. Combined with the extreme temperatures created, this can start fires if given the chance.
Inspect for and remove any flammable materials from the nearby areas – this could be liquids like petrol, solids such as wood and paper, or gases including hydrogen and propane.
6. Excessive noise
Prolonged exposure to loud noises exceeding 85dB(A) can do permanent damage to your hearing, with welding being capable of reaching over 100dB(A). Without proper hearing defence, you could experience noise-induced hearing loss.
7. UV exposure and infrared radiation
When welding, the bloom of UV light which is produced can damage your eyesight. This is why welders need eye protection and welding curtains to prevent this. Long-term effects could lead to a loss of vision, cataracts or foreign bodies entering the eye.
Wear proper welding PPE for safety precautions
Employers have a responsibility to provide proper PPE to any employees tasked with carrying out welding tasks, helping to prevent bodily harm and keep people safe.
1. Welding helmets
This will shield you from all manner of hazards – UV radiation, debris, chemical burns, etc. Ensure your helmet is fitted with the correct lens to combat the type of work you’ll be doing and adjust the filter to get a balance between visibility and proper protection.
Use the right form of respirator mask to protect your respiratory system from the oxides and fumes which will be generated by the work you will carry out.
3. Fire resistant clothing
As burns can occur quickly in a welding environment, fire resistant clothing is needed to shield you from heat, fire and radiation. This needs to cover any pockets and feature no cuffs where things could get caught inside. Do not roll up sleeves or the ends of trousers as the folds could trap molten metals.
4. Ear defenders
Make sure that ear protection is worn to protect you from noise generated in your workplace and use fire resistant earmuffs where there could be a risk of something entering your ear canal.
5. Worker boots and gloves
These need to meet the required standards for the workplace to provide adequate protection. Gloves need to be insulated and flame resistance to protect from shocks and heat, while boots should be rubber-soled and feature steel-toecaps to further insulate from electricity as well as shielding your feet from heavy objects.
Welding gloves don’t offer enough mobility for delicate tasks, so the welder should have options. A well-fitting pair of chemical-resistant nitrile gloves is essential for work that requires precision and a soft touch, such as mixing chemicals and applying paints, stains, and other solvents.
By being aware of the potential hazards and what PPE is needed when welding, you can implement further safety measures that take these things into full consideration, whether you’re in an industrial environment or working at home in a workshop.