The Right Stuff: Finding the Proper Welding Safety PPE

Andrew Ortman, Contributor

This article takes a deep look into the safety products all welders should be wearing and the options that they have. By breaking down each product category, you’ll have the ability to find the field you need or identify a broad spectrum of needs.

General Requirements

Aside from face and eye protection, OSHA does not have specific standards regarding welding PPE. However, ANSI suggests that “clothing shall provide sufficient coverage and be made of suitable materials to minimize skin burns caused by sparks, spatter or radiation” (Safety in Welding, Cutting, and Allied Processes). Additional information is in the International Organization for Standardization, which specifies “minimum basic safety requirements and test methods for protective clothing, including hoods, aprons, sleeves and gaiters, that are designed to protect the wearer’s body—including head (hoods) and feet (gaiters); and that are to be worn during welding and allied processes with comparable risks.”

Welding Hazards

The main injuries that occur in the welding industry are burns. Burns are caused from a variety of things, but they are mainly due to hot materials and spatter. This is followed by exposure to arc rays and electric shock. According to the Canadian Centre for Occupational Health and Safety, you should take the following precautions, among others:

  • PPE should be made of heavyweight, tightly woven, fire-retardant treated wool, cotton or leather that can offer protection from UV radiation, weld spatter, sparks and open flame.
  • Wear dark-colored clothes and PPE to prevent reflection (and burns) and cover all skin. Some options are listed below:
    • Long sleeve shirts/jackets
    • Long pants
    • Welding caps with neck cover
    • Helmet bib
    • Welding sleeves
    • Welding apron
    • Welding cape
  • Avoid pockets or ensure they have a flap to cover them. Alternatively, tape them shut to avoid collecting sparks and spatter. Many new welding clothes have internal pockets to mitigate this hazard.
  • Wear high boots, fully laced; ensure the pant covers the boot and that it has no cuffs, as those collect sparks. Don’t tuck pants into the boot!
  • To avoid collecting sparks and spat, use a leather apron.

Leather vs. FR Cotton

Flame-resistant cotton is a popular fabric for welding, because the material is light-weight and inexpensive. The chemicals that make the cotton flame-resistant are structured to deprive the material of oxygen and inhibit combustion when it encounters flames and hot material. FR cotton is a more comfortable and breathable material compared to leather. Although it is more comfortable, it will not withstand all the welding conditions, and the lifespan is exponentially shorter than leather.

Leather is naturally flame-resistant; its density provides heat and flames from penetrating through it. Leather should be considered the best PPE for welding, as it has a long-life span and is usable in all welding categories.

Although leather is more desirable for its protective properties, it is more expensive and heavier—which can lead to fatigue. Leather also acts insulation when dealing with sparks and spatter. It can obstruct with heat escaping, leaving the wearer prone to heat exhaustion. Leather may become stiffer over time, sometimes after a few washes.

When deciding between cotton and leather, it ultimately comes down to the hazards you are handling and what PPE you need to be safe. Preform a paper hazard assessment and know the limitations of the PPE you choose.

Common Welding PPE

Shirts, Jackets and Capes

Shirts and jackets can both be made from FR cotton or leather, while capes are generally made from leather. Jackets provide protection from the waistline to the neck, including arms. Jackets are designed to provide an additional layer of protection against burns and radiation. Welding jackets are strongly suggested for overhead welding, as they provide coverage that will prevent debris and spatter from evoking injury.

Shirts and jackets should always be kept dry; getting them wet will increase the potential of electric shock.

Capes have been developed to only protect the shoulders and arms of wearer. Capes will not provide any protection for the wearer’s torso.

Welding Sleeves

Sleeves have been developed to provide protection in the low-volume welding process. They are made to only protect the welder’s arms from sparks, hot debris and spatter.

Sleeves can be made from leather or fabric; both present their own benefits and draw backs, as previously noted. Sleeves come in a variety of sizes and are commonly secured to the arm with elastic bands. As with the jackets, sleeves also provide a natural feel, allowing for movement and the needed dexterity for the job at hand.

Welding Aprons

Overall, aprons come in standardized sizes and lengths but do typically feature adjustable straps. They provide coverage from the knee to the chest; they do not, however, provide coverage to the wearer’s shoulders and arms. Aprons are crafted with leather and should be worn in tandem with other FR clothing; aprons are only supplementary protection.

Foot Protection

Leather safety boots are recommended for all welders, but there are also temperature-resistant lace protectors and shoe covers.

Leg Protection

Leg protection comes in multiple forms, like pants and chaps. Experienced professionals should lean towards chaps or pants for the highest level of protection, particularly when matched with another PPE product.

Chaps are leg covers, typically made from leather, that secure at the waist with an adjustable band, but they have no seat and are not connected in the crotch. Because of this, it allows for a wider range of body types to fit it.

The pants are made from FR cotton or from leather. FR cotton pants are typically more comfortable; they do not have the durability that is renowned with leather. If the wearer would like to wear cotton, it can be combined with chaps or other PPE for the needed protection. IHW