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Farm Welding Safety Tips: Safe Welding in a Dangerous Workplace

According to the National Safety Council, farms and ranches are one of the most dangerous workplaces in the country. Every year, thousands of farmers and ranchers suffer serious injuries while working on the farm. The vast majority of these tragedies involve equipment, machinery and tools, and welding equipment is no exception.

Using 5,000 watts of electricity or more to melt two pieces of metal together presents the risk of serious burns and electrical shock. However, following a few simple safety precautions can keep you welding injury-free for years to come.

Proper welding safety starts with familiarizing yourself and other operators with the welding equipment and the manufacturer’s recommendations. Take the time to read the operator’s manual thoroughly and follow all of the safety, operation and maintenance instructions it contains. Keep the manual handy so other users can acquaint themselves with the machine. Should the operator’s manual become lost or damaged, request a new one from the manufacturer. Miller Electric and many other manufacturers provide product manuals on-line.

Proper Set-Up

Place the welding power source on a flat surface away from any water or flammable materials, including paper, cloth rags, oil and gasoline. Avoid working in wet conditions, since water conducts electricity.

An auto-darkening helmet, such as the new Fire Storm from Miller Electric Mfg. Co., provides variable shade lens adjustments for working with a variety of materials, parameters and processes.

Connect the workpiece to a proper earth ground if possible and make sure the connection is metal on metal and unimpeded by paint or other foreign material. Always double-check the installation and verify proper grounding. Never use chains, wire ropes, cranes, hoists and elevators as grounding connectors.

When using gas cylinders, chain them securely to a stationary, upright support or cart at all times. When moving or storing a cylinder, fasten the threaded protector cap to the top of the cylinder. Doing so shields the valve system from impact damage. Only use gas hoses designed for welding, available at your local welding supply or general hardware store.

If there will be other people in the shop while you are welding, use a weld screen to ensure passersby will not be subjected to the arc flash.

Keep your work area free from clutter. This promotes safety and helps increase efficiency by making necessary equipment easier to find. Remove rags, paper or anything else that could be a fire hazard.

Cables and hoses can create a trip hazard. Organize the workspace to minimize the number of cables underfoot and position them so they are not in danger of being run over or stepped on. If possible, suspend hoses off the ground and coil up excess hose to prevent kinks and tangles.

Examine hoses regularly for leaks, wear and loose connections. To check for leaks, spray them with a soap and water mixture and look for bubbles, which indicate a leak. Replace faulty gas hoses with new hoses.

 

Proper Tools

It’s sometimes easy to forget that the metal you welded a couple minutes ago retains enough heat to cause serious and painful burns, but that’s exactly what can happen if you try to pick it up with bare hands or thin gloves. Even with heavy duty gloves, picking up a piece of hot metal poses a burn risk because the leather retains the heat from the metal and can continue burning your skin well after you’ve set the workpiece down.

Appealing to the hunter and outdoorsman, the Camouflage helmet from Miller Electric is part of the company’s new Pro-Hobby™ line of economically priced, full featured auto-darkening helmets.

Picking up hot metal with a good pair of pliers (two good pair are ideal) will help you avoid serious burns. Also, use appropriate tools for chipping and brushing off slag, grinding out the cracks and defects in broken parts, sanding or brushing off paint, rust and other surface contaminants and clamping the workpiece to the welding table.

 

Proper Ventilation

Many farms still rely on Stick welders for their welding needs. These durable machines are relatively inexpensive and get the job done, but they also produce the most fumes of any arc welding process. These fumes can be hazardous, and proper workplace ventilation is essential.

Most farm workshops are large enough to provide sufficient ventilation without the need for additional fans. Smaller work areas should have some type of fume extraction fan in place, however.

Proper Attire

Arc welding produces sparks and spatter and emits intense visible and invisible rays that pose several hazards to unprotected skin and eyes. Shorts, short sleeves and open collars all leave you vulnerable to burns from both flying sparks and the arc rays. Wear only flame-resistant clothing, and button your cuffs and pockets to prevent them from catching sparks. Pants cuffs, too, can catch sparks and should be avoided.

Proper attire—long sleeve shirts, pants, leather shoes, thick gloves—can prevent painful burns from spatter and sparks, which are especially prominent in Stick welding

With respect to footwear, high top leather shoes offer the best protection. Tennis shoes and other cloth shoes are inadequate; they can catch a spark and smolder unnoticed, and their components can melt and stick to your skin.

Always wear proper gloves when welding or handling recently welded material to protect yourself from sparks, arc burns and the heat from the workpiece. Remember, even a quick tack weld requires the use of a welding helmet and appropriate apparel.

Although the above sounds obvious, a common fault among welders is not wearing the right safety equipment.

Even a brief exposure to the arc’s radiation may be causing symptoms such as a burning sensation or eye irritation. Repeated exposure can lead to permanent injury. Always wear proper face and eye protection, including safety glasses underneath the welding helmet, when welding or when exposed to a welding arc.

Auto-darkening helmets offer the best solution if your welding needs require different processes—MIG, Stick, TIG—materials or parameters. All auto-darkening helmets must comply with the safety and protection requirements of the American National Standards Institute (ANSI).

Auto-darkening helmets vary greatly in their response times to the light of the arc, generally between 1/2,000 to 1/20,000 of a second. Helmets also differ in the level of lens shade, with some remaining a fixed shade #10 and others adjustable between shade #8 and shade #13.

All auto-darkening helmets will meet most farm welding needs. However, farmers involved in more intensive welding, requiring frequent tack welds, TIG welding or other industrial operations, should consider helmets with reaction times of 1/10,000 of a second or faster and adjustable shade lenses.

Auto-darkening helmets are more expensive than traditional welding helmets, though, so if you’re on a budget or your weld parameters and materials don’t vary, a fixed-shade lens may be right for you.

Making Safe Welds

Using your welder in a safe manner is only the first part to being a safe welder, however. Just as important to your safety is performing high-quality, structurally sound welds. Failing to fully grind out a crack or using insufficient current could leave you with a weld that appears sound, but in reality could fail under the demanding conditions common on farms.

Welding outdoors relieves the danger posed by welding fumes, but raises the possibility of insufficient shielding gas coverage if the wind is over 5 mph when MIG welding. Flux Cored and Stick are alternative processes that are not affected by normal wind conditions

Like operating the welder safely, strong welds begin with the owner’s manual. The owner’s manual will help you select the proper wire or electrode for your metal type and thickness and it will provide guides to setting the correct current parameters to ensure adequate penetration.

Once you have the wire/electrode and settings right, be sure to grind away the paint, rust and other surface material from the area to be welded. Stick and flux cored welding are more forgiving of these types of contaminants than MIG welding, but the metal should be cleaned as much as possible regardless.

One of the most overlooked steps in making strong welds is fully grinding out the cracks and holes that form in the equipment. Oftentimes, when a crack forms, the operator will simply get out their welder and start welding over the crack, ignoring the fact that the crack goes all the way through the metal. A “Band-aid” approach such as this creates an unsafe situation in which a small amount of weld material is being required to bear the same amount of weight and force that caused the crack in a much thicker piece of metal. To avoid this possibly hazardous situation, grind out the crack from both the front and back of the metal to make sure that the crack doesn’t reform and continue spreading.

Making multiple passes is another step toward creating sounds welds. Operators often go too slowly, mistakenly thinking that the extra metal they are depositing will result in stronger welds. Rather, weld at a recommended pace and go back and make multiple passes as necessary.

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