The Bureau of Labor Statistics reports that more than 500,000 workers are injured annually due to welding accidents. Welding requires a dangerous level of heat and energy, so this unfortunate toll isn’t shocking. Welding is a very dangerous job, with the risk of death being more than four per 1,000 during the course of a career.
Just how dangerous can welding be? Here are the most common welding injuries:
- Burns from fire, sparks or flammable material
- Eye injuries, due to excessive heat or the arc eye
- Infrared radiation exposure
- Skin injuries other than burns
- UV exposure
- Toxic fume inhalation, especially due to working in confined spaces with little ventilation
- Invisible light exposure
- Hearing loss due to excessively loud noises
- Vision loss due to excessive lighting or injuries to the eyes
Based on the ANSI Z49.1:2012 Safety in Welding Standard, the American Welding Society (AWS) offers a free course in best practices in welding safety. The course includes a broad range of topics, including hazards, safety equipment, ventilation, welding in confined spaces, safety precautions and safety specifications. Presented in easy-to-access, online modules, the “AWS Safety in Welding” course is equally accessible to students, hobbyists and established professionals who want to expand their knowledge base and core competencies.
CRITICAL SAFETY PRACTICES
According to ProWelding.org, here are the critical welding safety practices that must be followed:
Protect Your Eyes with the Right Headgear
According to OSHA, eye injuries are the single most common type of welding-related injury. Eyes are the most vulnerable body part in arc-welding, and regular eye protection is not enough.
With different types of lenses available for visors and welding helmets, choosing the best welding helmet for the type of welding job you’ll be doing is important. For instance, a #12 filter is recommended for arc-welding. Using the wrong lens can cause retinal damage, both short- and long-term.
It is recommended to use auto-darkening helmets, because they can auto-adjust the shade level. This allows one to continue to protect the eyes, while having excellent visibility.
Always Wear High-Quality Gloves
When working with welding arc, regular gloves won’t do much to protect you. It’s important to get a decent pair of welding gloves that are lined with Kevlar, giving your hands an extra layer of protection. Also, ensure your gloves are completely dry before you handle any equipment. Even a little bit of water can short electric current and increase the possibility of electrocution.
Be Mindful of Your Clothing
Sparks easily burn skin and clothes. While you’re required to be covered from head to toe, everyday clothes won’t suffice. They can still catch fire. Invest in a high-quality leather apron to wear over your clothes to protect yourself from sparks. Do not use a synthetic apron. It can catch fire just as easily as your normal cotton/woolen clothes (if not faster). Welding can get very hot—naturally leading to sweating. But, you definitely don’t want to work with voltage equipment in clothes that are wet with sweat. Leather boots are also important.
Prepare Metal by Stripping It
Fumes released by burning metal can be so toxic it makes stripping and preparing the metal beforehand a necessity. Stripping is the process of removing the top layer of the metal, which is generally a coating of chemicals meant to give the metal different characteristics (i.e., strength, color and durability).
However, it might not be possible to strip the top layer of the metal in every scenario. Welders are recommended to use masks and a fume or smoke extractor. Similar to a portable vacuum cleaner, these small machines help suck toxic fumes away from the welder and improve ventilation.
Ensure Enough Ventilation
Under helmets and heat, body temperatures can rise significantly and increase chances of overexertion, heat exhaustion and even heat stroke. Improving airflow by ensuring that there is enough ventilation and airflow helps maintain safe workplace temperatures; facilitate breathing; and improve morale among workers.
Beware of Your Surroundings
Before starting any welding work, look around the surface to ensure your workplace complies with OSHA’s safe workplace environment guidelines for welding:
- There are no flammable substances in the near vicinity.
- The floor is not constructed of wood
- Tanks and similar objects that previously contained flammable or explosive substances have been thoroughly cleaned
- The floor is not wet
- The workplace is not littered with objects (welder could be seriously injured in case of a fall)
- The workplace is not congested or cramped
Read the Manual & Do Not Experiment
Whether you’re a newly appointed welder or a master of your trade, reading manuals is always a good first step, especially when working with new equipment. Don’t experiment with torches or regulators under normal working circumstances (without additional safety precautions). Stick to the guidelines.
Prepare for Emergencies
Lastly, prepare for every potential disaster beforehand. Basic disaster management should be included in training, and welders should be taught the right procedures in different scenarios (fire, electrocution, explosion, etc.). At the very least, fire extinguishers should be installed near the workplace where they are easily accessible by workers. IHW
Free Welding Safety Fact Sheets
The AWS offers a library of free welding safety fact sheets covering more than 40 welding hazards and safety practices. Topics include:
Fumes and Gases
Chromium and Nickel in Welding Fume
Fire and Explosion Prevention
Tripping and Falling
Contact Lens Wear
Ergonomics in the Welding Environment
Graphic Symbols for Precautionary Labels
Style Guidelines for Safety and Health Documents
Implantable Medical Devices and Arc Welding/Cutting
Electric and Magnetic Fields (EMF)
Laser Welding and Cutting Safety
Thermal Spraying Safety
Resistance Spot Welding
Cadmium Exposure from Welding and Allied Processes
California Proposition 65
Fluxes for Arc Welding and Brazing: Safe Handling and Use
Metal Fume Fever
Arc Viewing Distance
Thoriated Tungsten Electrodes
Oxyfuel Safety: Check Valves and Flashback Arrestors
Grounding of Portable and Vehicle Mounted Welding Generators
Cylinders: Safe Storage, Handling, and Use
Eye and Face Protection for Welding and Cutting Operations
GHS – and Hazard Communications for the Welder
Personal Protective Equipment (PPE) for Welding and Cutting
Coated Steels: Welding and Cutting Safety Concerns
Welding Safety in Education and Schools
Ventilation for Welding and Cutting
Selecting Gloves for Welding and Cutting
Respiratory Protection Basics for Welding Operations
Download ANSI Welding Standard
The American Welding Society’s Board of Directors recently authorized free electronic distribution of the current ANSI Z49.1, Safety in Welding, Cutting and Allied Processes. The Board decided this important voluntary welding safety and health standards document should receive the widest distribution possible and has directed that Z49.1:2012 be made available for free download.
During World War II, the huge demand for war materials production placed on the U.S. brought a tremendous expansion into the use of welding. In mid-1943, it was recognized that some type of code or standard was needed relating to safe practices for performing welding. Under the auspices of the American Standards Association, the standard was drafted and published in 1944. It was entitled American War Standard Z49.1, Safety in Electric and Gas Welding, and Cutting Operations.
Following the war, the standard was first revised in 1950. Subsequent revisions occurred in 1958, 1967, 1973, 1983, 1988, 1994, 1999, 2005 and 2012. The 2012 revision is now available and accessible for free download from the AWS website. During the period of these revisions, the American Standards Association has become the American National Standards Institute and War Standard ASA Z49.1-1944 has become ANSI Z49.1-2012. For a free download, visit https://www.aws.org/standards/page/ansi-z491 IHW
For more information on the “AWS Safety in Welding” course, go to: https://awo.aws.org/online-courses/safety-in-welding/