Welding can be an extremely dangerous profession with multiple hazards and high-risk factors involved. Welders work for extended periods of time in close proximity to a high-heat source. The smallest error can have disastrous consequences. Appropriate welder training, on-the-job experience, taking proper precautionary measures, and wearing the right personal protective gear is crucial to minimising the many risks of injury to welders inherent in the job.
These are some of the most common welding hazards associated with the welding profession with a few basic but critical safety precautions.
Welding Burn Hazards
Welding burn hazards top this list, which is not surprising given the nature of the job. While on the job, welders are exposed to intense heat that can often go up to thousands of degrees. Depending on the material being worked on, arc welding may be performed with an arc temperature of about 5500 degrees Celsius. These high temperatures combined with the proximity to molten metal leave welders susceptible to severe burns.
Burn injuries can happen in a flash, leaving little to no time to react or lessen the damage. The slightest error or negligence resulting in burns can cause severe injuries often leaving scarring and sometimes nerve damage injuries.
Exposure To Radiation
In addition to high heat, the welding arc also produces an intense bloom of ultraviolet light. Welders are exposed to long periods of time to radiation from these UV rays putting them at risk for different types of injuries especially if the work is carried out without the appropriate personal protection equipment.
Looking at the intense UV light for extended periods of time without a dark-shaded filter plate can cause a painful condition known as welders’ eye or arc eye. Symptoms of arc eye may include persistent eye irritation, mild pressure to intense pain in the eyes, sensitivity to light, and bloodshot eyes. These symptoms often manifest several hours after the exposure and can be long-lasting. Cataracts and loss of vision may result from long-term exposure.
Fire And Explosions Caused By Welding
Negligence is often the main cause of fires and explosions caused by welding. While the welding arc generates extremely high temperatures, it does not pose a threat of fire or explosion by itself. These accidents typically occur only when there are other flammable materials and hazards laying about the welding area.
When the welding arc comes in contact with the material to be welded, it creates a stream of fiery sparks and spatters. These can reach a distance of up to 35 feet away. If there are no flammable materials around, they’ll just fall to the ground and disintegrate within seconds. However, if the sparks come in contact with any flammable material, they can ignite a fire. If they come in contact with explosive material, it could result in an explosion.
Flammable and explosive materials being solids, liquids, or gases.
Welders Suffering Electric Shock And Electrocution
Electrocution and electric shock are ever-present hazards of the welding profession. Damaged welding leads that are no longer able to contain the electrical circuit is the most common cause of electric shock while welding. Faulty connections, missing insulators and faulty cables add to the risks.
Electric shock while welding is a serious hazard at all times. The risk increases several times over when welding in electrically-hazardous conditions such as damp surroundings, metal flooring or structures, or wearing wet clothing. Workers carrying out welding work at height are at additional risk of falling from height if they receive an electrical shock.
Exposure To Fumes And Gases
Toxic fumes and gases such as carbon monoxide, chromium and nickel oxides, ozone, or nitrogen oxide are generated when fusing metals. Welders may be exposed to several different types of fumes and gases depending on the type of metal they are working on.
The risk of inhalation is higher because of the invisible nature of these toxins. Workers may not know they are exposed until much later when the symptoms start to manifest. Very often, by the time the condition is diagnosed, the symptoms are already advanced and severe. The effects of inhaling toxic fumes and gases can be long-lasting.
Inhaling these hazardous elements can cause metal fume fever, throat irritation, occupational asthma, and cancer. When inhaled, these toxins also penetrate the lungs causing lung damage, pneumonia, and severe respiratory distress. The type and severity of the symptoms depend on the type and concentration of gas or fume the worker is exposed to as well as the duration of the exposure. Exposure to certain types of fumes and gases has been linked to nervous system conditions.
Noise that is over 85 dB (A) is considered a loud noise. Some parts of the welding process produce noise levels that are over 100 dB (A), which is dangerously loud. Exposure to such high noise levels can be damaging to the ears and can result in hearing impairment and even permanent noise-induced hearing loss.
The risk of hearing loss rises significantly with extended exposure but it doesn’t always require multiple or prolonged exposures to suffer hearing loss. It can even happen with a single, immediate exposure.
Tinnitus or persistent ringing in the ears, increased blood pressure, vertigo or occasional dizziness and increased heart rate are other effects of exposure to loud noises.
Other Hazards Associated With Welding
Other welding-related hazards besides those mentioned above include:
- Eye damage from foreign bodies such as dust, sparks and grit entering the eye
- Ergonomic problems from working in cramped and awkward body positions
- Repetitive stress syndrome from performing the same tasks repeatedly for prolonged periods
Safety Precautions That Can Help Minimise Welding Hazards
Proper training for welding, regular inspection and maintenance, safe working practices, and remaining ever vigilant while performing any welding work can help reduce the risks of welding significantly. Ensuring that the surroundings and clothing are dry and that there are no flammable materials lying around lowers the risks further.
Wearing appropriate personal protective gear is a critical aspect of safety while welding. Personal protective gear for welding includes oil-free, fire-resistant, and non-melting clothing, respirator, leather gloves, safety goggles, heavy-duty boots, ear protection and safety helmets with side shields.
Both employers and workers must take equal responsibility for ensuring any welding hazards are minimal.