Back to the Basics
- August 31, 2020
Welding during the pandemic means a host of new safety protocols, but don’t forget about the baseline practices
The best welding safety practices involve a lot of common sense, but it’s essential to maintain all the best practices and equipment to ensure the highest level of safety for you and anyone else in the welding environment.
Here, we walk through the basics of welding safety, from what clothing is optimal to how to make sure you have a safe welding environment. Whether you’re welding alone in your garage, or if you run a welding shop, it’s absolutely vital that you read through all the safety manuals of all the equipment you purchase before using it. The same goes for anyone else who may be operating this equipment.
Please note: This article is meant as a guideline on welding safety and should not be used on its own or as a substitute for any safety manual provided by the manufacturers of your welding equipment.
The Well Dressed Welder
Arc welding produces sparks and emits rays which can cause damage to your skin and eyes if there aren’t protected properly. If you leave any skin exposed, it’s could easily result in burns. Here are some guidelines for the kind clothing to wear when welding:
Welding Gloves and Gauntlets: Always wear proper heat resistant welding gloves when welding. Modern welding gloves have come a long way since the “one-size-fits-all“ days, and there are now different gloves available for specific processes. You can buy them in a range of different materials, such as pig skin, deer skin, goat skin and kevlar along with options of fleece or wool lining for extra comfort. If you’re stick welding at high heats, you’ll need heavy-duty gloves that will withstand high temperatures. If you’re MIG welding, use medium-range gloves. For TIG welding, thinner leather gloves to allow for maximum dexterity.
Footwear: Wearing high-top boots or leather shoes will give you a good level of protection for your feet. Make sure your footwear is made of leather or rubber. Keep the legs of your pants over the top of your boots for the best safety. Steel toe boots are the safest choice to protect your toes, and if you like lace-up boots then make sure you get a pair with a metatarsal guard.
Shirt and Pants: Short-sleeved shirts and shorts are a no-go when welding—you need to keep your skin shielded from the arc at all times. Any clothes that you are wearing must also be flame resistant. Denim pants are an acceptable choice, and you should also wear a welding jacket or apron. Inexpensive flame-resistant jackets that are lightweight and do not restrict your movement are almost universally available, so don’t skip this one.
Welding Helmets: Exposure to arc radiation can seriously damage your eyes, even if its for just a moment. It’s absolutely crucial that you wear professional and effective eye protection when you are performing a weld or are in proximity to a welding arc. Welding helmets come in fixed-shade and auto-darkening models.
- If you’re buying a fixed-shade helmet, you’ll need to choose the correct shade for the level of light emitted from the arc. There are different grades of fixed-shade helmet which designed to protect from different amperages. Most helmets go from #9 to #13, with some ranging from #8 to #13. Check with your welding peripherals supplier to see which is the best model for your application.
- If you don’t have the space or budget to stock different helmets for each job, Auto-darkening helmets are the answer. They vary their shade depending on your type of weld and strength of the arc. If you’re only performing one type of welding on one material with the same parameters, then fixed-shade is a good choice, but if you’re going to vary your welding parameters then auto-darkening helmets are a must. Technology has greatly advanced in these helmets—they used to contain optical sensors which detected light from the weld and changed accordingly, but now magnetic sensors pick up the magnetic field created by the arc. This means auto-darkening helmets adjust the shade of the lens more reliably, and much quicker, sometimes as little as 0.00003 seconds. If you buy an auto-darkening helmet, make sure it adheres to official safety standards so you know it’s properly tested and safe to wear.
Safety Glasses: Safety glasses should be worn underneath your welding helmet to further protect your eyes, or on their own if you’re cutting or only need to protect them from dust or debris. These should ideally cover your eyes at the side with either wraparound lenses or side shields and should meet local standards. You can also wear safety glasses instead of a welding helmet if you need to get into tight areas, however, this means you’re not protecting the rest of your face.
Bandanas: It’s a good idea to keep a layer of protection between your head and your welding helmet. For this, we recommend either a bandana or a thin cotton hat to ensure your head has the best possible protection.
Gas Cylinders: Gas cylinders can be very dangerous. If you knock one over and the valve pops off, it’s going to shoot across the room—if it hits you then you’re in serious trouble. Make sure your cylinder is chained to a well secured, stationary and upright cart or support at all times. If you’re moving the cylinder, attach a protective cap to the valve to prevent it from sustaining any damage. Most importantly, read all the safety guidelines from your gas cylinder provider before use.
Ventilation: Welding fumes are toxic and can be a health hazard to yourself and any others in the area. This is especially true if you’re welding in a confined space where fumes can accumulate. If you’re using a shielding gas, the last thing you want is Carbon Dioxide or Argon released into the room. There’s also other dangerous fumes emitted that you may not have heard of, such as Hexavalent Chromium (the toxic substance made famous by the Erin Brockovich lawsuits) which is produced during welding and cutting stainless steel and other alloys. When you’re welding, check to see if there’s an exhaust hood in the area you’re welding so that clean air can get into the area. If there isn’t one, then play it safe by either moving the work piece or getting an exhaust hood installed. There are other options, such as downdraft tables and bench top fume extractors, which are a good choice for small operations. If you’re an employer, you’ll need to comply with several regulations, so it’s worth the investment.
Clutter: Keep the area you’re working in free from clutter. It can be tempting to leave spare bits of metal and tools lying around, but it’s worth the extra few seconds moving stuff out the way. There’s nothing worse than tripping over something and injuring yourself, and without clutter you’ll increase your welding speed as the tools you need will be easier to locate. Remove any fire hazards such as paper documents, towels or clothes that might be lying around and try to group or hide your cables so that they don’t get tangled and you don’t trip over them.
Stay Dry: This sounds obvious, but make sure you’re welding in a dry area without water. Water conducts electricity, so don’t weld in wet or rainy areas. Even if there’s just a tiny puddle on the ground, clean it up. Water can kill you! SMT