Safety in the workplace is something every industry has to respect and metalworking is no exception. Welding creates fumes that are very dangerous when they’re inhaled, and metalworkers deal with extremely hot metal and dangerous equipment on a daily basis. Welding safety begins with a thorough understanding of what could go wrong and how to be prepared in case something does happen. Risks include inhalation of toxic fumes, eye or face injury, skin burns, and electric shock.
Here are several ways you can develop a safety plan for your welding business. The safety tips we share here are not meant to serve as a substitute for official safety documentation, so make sure your business conforms to all safety requirements.
Proper Air Flow
Ventilation is extremely important while welding. Welding fumes lead to eye, nose, and throat irritation and may cause dizziness and nausea. Long term exposure can lead to serious illness including lung damage, cancer, stomach ulcers, and damage to the kidneys and nervous system. The fumes produced by certain metals contain manganese, helium, argon, and carbon dioxide. These gases are extremely dangerous when welding in an enclosed area because they displace the oxygen and may lead to suffocation.
High quality respirators are worth every penny spent to purchase them. Some connect directly to the welding helmet and provide long term wearability and comfort. Others are separate pieces of equipment that may be used with any type of helmet and welding gear. Your metalworking gear should fit comfortably yet snugly to offer the most effective coverage.
Always know what you’re working with as far as chemicals and metal cleaners are concerned. Certain chemical reactions can create toxic gases during the welding process. Take the time to use sandpaper, a grinder, or a safe cleaning solution to remove other chemicals from the metal before you begin welding to prevent the production of toxic fumes while working.
Personal Protective Equipment (PPE)
The protection of the metalworker should be the primary focus. There are several types of PPE on the market and each of them should be examined and carefully considered. Choose protective clothing that meets the individual needs of the metalworker and all OSHA requirements as well.
Eye and Face Protection
Helmets, hand shields, goggles and safety glasses are acceptable eye and face protection in a variety of settings. Any combination of these may be worn simultaneously to better protect the welder. Filter lenses and plates must meet the criteria for transmission of radiant energy.
Welding Helmets with Filter Plates
These are designed to protect welders from arc rays and weld sparks or splatters that strike the helmet. They do not always protect against slag chips, grinding fragments, wire wheel bristles or similar hazards. You must also wear goggles or some other appropriate eye ware (eyewear) to ensure that your eyes are properly protected.
OSHA requires metalworkers to use helmets or hand shields with filter lenses and cover plates when arc cutting and arc welding with an open arc. Anyone standing nearby or observing the job must also wear safety glasses with at least a shade two lens to protect their eyes.
Auto Darkening Helmet vs. Standard Flip Helmet
The standard flip helmet is designed to protect the eyes with a very dark tinted #10 shade and ultraviolet and infrared coatings. A quick nod of the welder’s head closes the helmet to protect his eyes and face, and when he’s ready to examine his work, he simply lifts the helmet. The primary issue with the standard flip helmet for welding is that it’s very tiring and causes neck discomfort.
Auto darkening helmets are based on similar technology as prescription glasses that automatically darken when the wearer steps outside into bright sunshine. They are designed to darken automatically to a dark shade (generally #9 to #13) to protect the wearer’s eyes and then return to clear. The change happens very quickly so the wearer can work more efficiently.
While you can find many arguments in favor of and against both the standard flip helmet and auto darkening helmets, both are very valuable pieces of PPE. The wearer should have the final say as to which piece of equipment they would rather use based on their personal preference.
Welding Sleeves or Jacket
Both welding sleeves and jackets provide an additional layer of protection against serious injury while welding. Personal preference does play a small part here, but certain jobs may require the use of a jacket for full coverage.
The clothing you wear when working with metal should fully cover your skin to prevent burns from the sparks. Protective clothing also protects against ultraviolet and infrared ray flash burns while working. Dark clothing is best because it reduces the glare you may experience under the face shield. Avoid clothing that is made from materials that may melt and stick to your skin if it comes into contact with the sparks while you’re working.
When choosing welding gear and personal protection equipment, you should always thoroughly research your choices. Fire resistant materials are becoming increasingly popular due to their versatility. We don’t believe leather is completely being taken out of the equation because it is so very useful for many metalworking jobs.