The Gas Guy here. Over the years at Minneapolis Oxygen, I’ve worked with a lot of welders and I’m proud to say that some of my best friends are welders. So that’s why I’m talking about welding safety today.
Thomas Wilson created the oxyacetylene torch back in 1903. Combining both pure oxygen (99.5%) and acetylene in proper proportions, it yielded a flame of over 6,000 degrees Fahrenheit.
A flame that burns at over 6,000 degrees! What could possibly go wrong?
Turns out a lot can go wrong. To protect welders from burns, respiratory distress and accidental explosions, it’s important to consistently follow safety-focused procedures. To keep all my welder friends safe, here are some of the welding safety tips I’ve picked up over the years:
Use eye protection. Eye injuries account for one-quarter of all welding injuries, making them by far the most common injury for welders, according to OSHA. The best way to control eye injuries is also the most simple: proper selection and use of eye protection. Helmets alone do not offer enough protection. Wearing goggles or safety glasses with sideshields will better protect welders from particles sent flying during pre-job grinding, hammering and power chipping that make it past the helmet’s protective front.
Use auto darkeners. Welder’s flash, arc eye or flash burn is caused by Ultraviolet (UV) and Infrared (IR) light (radiation) from the welding arc. UV affects the eye like a bad sunburn, but you probably won’t notice for a couple of hours. IR feels like intense heat as it scorches the retina and eventually causes cataracts. Radiation exposure is not only painful, but will cost you a doctor’s visit and workdays. Wear the appropriate eye protection selected on the basis of type of welding and visual requirements of the task. All auto-darkening helmets must meet ANSI standards, the most recent being ANSI Z87.1-2003.
Don’t forget about nearby workers. Workers in the surrounding welding area must be protected by noncombustible or flameproof screens or be required to wear appropriate googles. Safety google use in manufacturing and construction areas should be a no-brainer.
Breathe right. No one wants to breathe grinding dust or hazardous fumes caused by melting metal. More importantly, the fumes and smoke emitted during welding pose a health hazard. Not only can they cause permanent lung problems, they can also profoundly affect the brain. When welding in confined spaces, toxic fumes may accumulate, or shielding gasses may replace breathable air. Use an exhaust hood to remove fumes from the area and ensure enough clean breathing air is available. One of the most important pieces of safety gear for welders today is the respirator. Some materials specifically require respirators when welding, so consult the manufacturers welding electrode’s data sheet, your welding engineer or industrial safety specialist for proper procedures.
Wear the right gear. It is very important to make sure you have the proper protective equipment before starting any welding project. Wear only flame-resistant clothing, such as denim pants and a shirt made from tightly woven material or a welding jacket. Avoid wearing pants with cuffs, shirts with open pockets, or any clothing that can trap molten metal or sparks. Some recommended gear:
- Muffs for hearing protection
- Welding gloves
- Steel toe boots
- Welding helmet
- Beanie for scalp protection
- Welding jacket
- Safety glasses or googles
Lose the clutter. Marie Kondo, today’s household tidiness guru, is onto something when she advocates tidying up your home. Here’s the simple rule for your welding space: A place for everything, and everything in its place. The weld area should contain only the tools and equipment that the welder uses; nothing more, nothing less. Extra items could cause accidents and spark far worse things than joy.
Burn notice. One of my favorite television shows of the past decade, “Burn Notice” taught the importance of not being burned. Touching hot equipment such as electrode holders, gun tips, and nozzles cause burns. Burns hurt, but they also can cause you to miss paid work, so always wear dry, insulating gloves. Allow a cooling period before touching these and other parts of equipment that are near the actual welding or cutting operation. Wear flame-resistant ear plugs or ear muffs to keep sparks out of ears when welding or cutting overhead or in confined spaces.
Avoid electric shock. One of the most serious risks of welding is electric shock. It can cause injury or death from the shock itself, or a fall from reacting to the shock. To protect yourself from the hazards of electric shock, you need to insulate yourself from the metal you’re welding. Don’t touch the metal that is being welded—especially if you have wet clothing or bare skin. It’s important to wear dry gloves, and have dry insulation to stand or lie on.
Know compressed gas safety. Much like a wild animal or my wife, compressed gas cylinders need to be handled with proper caution and respect. Oxygen’s primary hazard is as an oxidizer that vigorously accelerates combustion. A minimum of 20 feet must be maintained between oxidizers and flammable gases and other combustible materials, such as oil or grease. The primary hazard for acetylene and propane is flammability. Store flammables in a well-ventilated area away from oxidizers, open flames, sparks and other sources of heat or ignition. Avoid dragging or sliding cylinders, and do not lift cylinders by the caps.
Check equipment frequently. Before you ever touch the welding machine, there are a number of very important safety checks to do first. These safety measures may seem like common sense, but it is easy to forget them when welding feels routine. For your safety, visually inspect your equipment before beginning. One last thing, make sure the welding surface is actually safe for welding. Has the welding surface been exposed to flammable chemicals which may have left a residue? Does the item to be welded have any kind of surface coating that might be flammable or which might produce toxic gases?
Welding can be a dangerous trade, but safety education and commonsense precautions can help you work safely. Safety is an investment that saves lives and money in the long run. Let’s keep you guys safe.
The Gas Guy