It's understandably tempting, when you're rushing to get a project completed, to neglect proper safety protocols and simply grab your welding gear to lay down a quick bead. You might get away without injury now and then, but that time when you skip a proper welding jacket and a piece of spatter burns a hole through your shirt or worse yet burn your skin, you'll wish you had taken the extra ten seconds to throw on a proper welding jacket.
The first thing to remember about welding safety is that the recommended apparel and procedures exist for a reason - because welding, when done improperly, can be hazardous. When proper safety procedures are followed, however, arc welding is a very safe way to join two pieces of metal.
The primary sources of potential injuries are: Electric Shock, Fumes and Gases, Arc Rays, Fire and Explosion, Hot Parts, Flying Metal, Noise and others. In the area of Arc Rays, some of the sources of potential injuries are the intense visible and invisible light, as well as the sparks and spatter. The ultraviolet and infrared light rays can burn your skin, similar to but more intense than sunburn, and your eyes, creating an experience like getting fine particles of sand on your eyes. Sparks and spatter can burn your skin, your hair and your clothes.
The following information provides our recommendations for properly protecting yourself from some of the potential hazards of MIG, flux-cored, TIG and Stick welding.
Welding helmets have come a long way from the days of the heavy, fixed-shade traditional passive helmet. Welding helmets today, especially auto-darkening helmets, offer a wide range of darkening shades, sensitivity controls, reaction speeds and a number of other 'bells and whistles' to accommodate any application and budget.
What hasn't changed, however, is the protection that today's helmets offer against harmful light, sparks and spatter. If anything, the increased controls offered by modern auto-darkening helmets increase their safety by allowing you to adjust their settings based on your personal preferences and light sensitivities. Features such as grind mode, multiple arc sensors and delay control further ensure you are maximally protected before, during and after welding.
All auto-darkening helmets feature a UV-blocking lens that protects you from the effects of UV rays even if you forget to turn on the lens before welding. Also, today's auto-darkening helmets are roughly half the weight of traditional fixed-shade passive helmets, reducing the stress on your neck and shoulders.
You should choose a helmet that is appropriate for the applications in which you'll be using it. Applications that involve frequent tack welds, for example, require helmets with faster switching speeds to reduce the cumulative amount of time your eyes are exposed to the arc. Because auto-darkening helmets employ LCD (liquid crystal display) technology, their switching speed can be affected by cold weather. It's worth noting that all premium-quality auto-darkening helmets rate their helmets to provide a darkening speed of at least 1/6000-second down to 32-degrees F. Consult your distributor to determine the helmet that best meets your specific needs.
When using any welding helmet, it's important to position the bottom of the helmet against your chest to protect you from light that could reflect off your clothes and burn your neck and face. Some welders also affix a piece of leather to the bottom of their helmets for added protection.
Also, sparks and spatter have no trouble at all finding their way behind your helmet so it's always advisable to wear ear plugs and a beanie, welding cap, bandana or other head protector.
Like head protection, safety apparel has made great strides in increasing operator comfort and safety by incorporating new, lightweight materials and ergonomic designs. By combining excellent protection with high levels of comfort, modern welding apparel takes away one of the most frequently used excuses for not wearing proper safety gear.
For all welding safety apparel, including the head protection described above, avoid using any synthetic materials, as they will melt when struck by spatter and can cause burns. Flame-resistant natural fibers, such as denim, and leather will provide the best combination of protection and comfort.
Select the appropriate welding jacket & sleeves to match your work environment and application. If you're MIG or TIG welding in a stagnant, non-air conditioned garage in southern Florida, for example, you will probably be too hot in a full leather jacket to be either comfortable or safe. In situations like that, a lightweight, flame-resistant cloth jacket or, in some cases, a natural fiber t-shirt and flame-resistant welding sleeves will allow you to strike an acceptable balance between comfort and safety. If the ambient heat isn't as much of a factor and you're welding several hours a day on a regular basis, you'll want to go with at least half-leather, half-fabric jacket, which will provide good flame resistance and long product life.
Your hands are usually the closest body part to the welding arc. Your gloves need to protect them from spatter and the heat from the arc, but they also need to provide you with enough dexterity and sensitivity to lay an acceptable bead. For this reason, modern welding gloves are designed for specific applications and processes.
Because TIG welding requires a very high degree of dexterity and because most TIG applications produce less heat, sparks and spatter than other processes, TIG gloves are thinner and made out of a softer, more sensitive leather than gloves designed for other processes.
Heavy-duty MIG and Stick welding, by contrast, often produce a lot of heat, sparks and spatter and do not require a high degree of dexterity, so gloves for these applications are made using thicker, stiffer leather that provides a much higher level of protection. Still, no one wants to feel like they're wearing a baseball mitt while welding, so look for a pair of gloves with curved fingers and selectively reinforced areas that maximize range of motion and sensitivity.
When it comes to leg protection, again, choose apparel that will strike a balance between safety and comfort based on your specific application. If you TIG weld titanium while sitting in a chair in a very hot environment, an apron covering your lap will provide sufficient protection. In most cases, however, flame-resistant, natural fiber jeans or other pants without cuffs are recommended. Pant cuffs - like shirt pockets - can catch sparks and lead to injuries and ruined clothing.
Finally, choose leather footwear that covers your entire foot and leaves as little room possible for spatter to fall in along your ankle line. High-top leather shoes and work boots, which sit above the bottom hemline of your pants, provide the best protection against sparks and spatter.
Unfortunately, many welders don't realize that they should have worn the proper protective apparel until it's too late. Thankfully, these effects can be avoided by observing proper welding safety procedures and wearing the right safety apparel - every time, not just when you have the time.