Welding 101: How To Stay Safe While Welding
According to the US government, approximately one out of every 250 welders will die from a welding incident and thousands more are injured every year. Injuries range from severe burns to blindness to electrical shock to long-term respiratory problems. All construction trades and their tools come with some level of risk, but welding ranks as one of the most dangerous.
You don’t have to be part of the injured statistics. Safety precautions are easy to overlook but spending a few extra minutes or dollars now will keep you successfully and safely welding for years to come.
There are two areas to focus on when planning a safe welding experience: gear and surroundings.
The goal is to cover all your body. Not some, not most, but all. Sparks can and do fly anywhere and if they land on your exposed skin or hair, it will cause a serious burn. These sparks aren’t like the ones thrown off by backyard sparklers on the Fourth of July – these are sparks that will send you to the hospital. And don’t just cover yourself with any clothing. You want to wear flame-resistant material, like wool or heavy denim, and avoid synthetic materials, like polyester, because they smolder and catch fire more easily.
So, what exactly should you wear? Let’s start from the bottom up:
Closed-toe, heavy, flame-resistant boots
They should come up with your ankles a few inches and, ideally, have a steel-reinforced toe. You want leather for its flame resistance, so no canvas sneakers, loafers, or flip-flops while welding.
Pants, not shorts
Exposed skin can too easily become burned skin, so long pants are a must. Denim is preferred since it is less likely to catch fire than polyester or even regular cotton. Make sure your pants are long enough to go past the top of your boots and do not tuck them in. Pants should also be free of cuffs – cuffs are just a place for sparks to get caught and turn themselves into a fire.
Long-sleeved shirt, not a t-shirt
Again, exposed skin becomes burnt skin in a millisecond. Don’t wear polyester here, either, and those long sleeves should be fully extended down to your wrists.
Welding jacket and/or apron
Made of a heavy-duty flame-resistant material, these jackets and aprons provide an additional yet essential level of coverage for your torso.
Welding gloves come in sizes nowadays, so you have no excuse not to use them. It may feel unwieldy but think about how important your hands are for doing pretty much everything in life. You must protect them with gloves.
If flying spark lands in your ear, you might be facing permanent hearing loss and likely disfigurement. Don’t assume you can move fast enough to dodge sparks, although even if you could, that wouldn’t be all that safe either.
You want to keep your head free of sparks, whether you’ve got a full head of hair or are as bald as a cue ball. And of course, you don’t want sparks landing on your face either.
Eye protection is absolutely crucial. You want a physical barrier to keep sparks from hitting them, but you also need to protect them from the light emitted by welding. Welding can create light intensity on par with that of the sun. Looking at it even for a second will cause permanent eye damage and even blindness. Your helmet and face shield will likely come with a tinted eye window, but you should also be wearing safety glasses underneath that as well. You might also look for an auto-darkening helmet. Just like transition lenses in regular glasses that darken when exposed to sunlight, the window in an auto-darkening helmet gets darker while you’re actively welding but lightens up when you stop. You don’t have to lift it off your head to see what else you’re doing.
Welding is dangerous. Read the instruction manuals and safety precautions for all the equipment you are using. Know what to do ahead of time if something goes wrong. Even if you’ve welded before and hate reading, take a few minutes to re-familiarize yourself with proper equipment operation.
Matches and lighters
Do you keep either of these in your pockets? Get rid of them. If a spark comes into contact with one of these, you might wind up with a tiny explosion, one that results in you being on fire. Put these far from wherever you’re welding.
Welding generates a few different gases, none of which are good for you and some of which can literally kill you even though you can’t see them. If you’re welding inside, you’ll need an exhaust hood for your work area. And whether you’re inside or outside, some welding jobs call for a respirator in addition to ventilation.
If you’re welding, you’ve got compressed gas cylinders around. Be sure to store and secure them properly, including a way to keep them steady and upright. Not only are the contents deadly if inhaled, but if you knock a valve off the top, you’ve got a flying projectile with enough power to destroy equipment and seriously injure anyone nearby. This is not like an exploding soda can – it’s more like a loose rocket.
Clear the area of tripping hazards and anything that could catch fire (which means most everything). Small fires quickly become larger and uncontrollable, so avoid setting the stage for one to start accidentally.
You shouldn’t be welding in, on, or near water. Water conducts electricity, so if you’re standing on a wet floor while welding, you’re asking to get electrocuted.
Every day, thousands of welders do their jobs without injuring themselves or others or causing any destruction of property. If that many people can do it safely, you can, too. It just takes a few extra minutes of up-front preparation. However, should shit ever hit the fan, you want to be prepared. In that case you want to know how to act and have proper fire protection installed in your house.