Welding exposes you to high heat, bright light and dangerous gases. Protect yourself from these hazards with the right safety equipment and practices. Safe welding habits keep you on the job and out of the hospital. You will also enjoy a long, healthy life by practicing good safety habits when working around the dangerous products produced during welding.
Protect Your Eyes
Eye protection when welding can save your sight. You may not even notice the damage caused until several hours after you finish the project. Different welding materials create different lights, so be sure to use the appropriate lens for your helmet to protect your eyesight. Even with a welding mask, you still need eye protection and ear protection beneath. Install barriers around the welding area to preserve the vision of other workers nearby.
Traditional helmets have the disadvantage of making it difficult to see through when not welding. You must lift the mask to examine your work. An alternative is to use an auto-darkening helmet. These helmets must adhere to the same strict standard of ANSI Z87.1, which is the American safety standard for welding helmets. Some masks allow for changing the shade from nine through 13, but newer models allow for toggling from shades five to 13. These helmets effortlessly protect your sight by enabling you to keep your helmet in place the entire time you're in the welding area.
Care for Your Skin
Welding requires special gear to protect your skin. Never wear shorts or short-sleeved shirts when welding. Always have on tightly woven long pants and a welding jacket. Close-toed, nonskid, nonflammable shoes will protect your feet and give you stability as you work. No matter how hot it gets when welding, always keep your skin covered. Without proper protection, you could sustain severe burns that may require hospitalization.
Protect Your Lungs
Though you may not see the gases welding produces, they are still in the air and can damage your respiratory system. Exposure to fumes generated during welding could cause immediate and long-term effects. Without adequate ventilation, you may feel dizzy or nauseous when breathing in the fumes. Over time, exposure to welding fumes could cause more severe problems with your lungs, such as asthma or cancer. Protecting your lungs starts with working in a well-ventilated area, but even with appropriate ventilation, you still need a respirator.
Use the appropriate filtering cartridge in your respirator. The colors of the cartridges indicate what they filter out. For instance, brown cartridges filter out organic vapors, ammonia gases and acid gases. The N, P and R designation on some filters indicates how much you can expose the filter to oil vapors before it needs replacement. Do not use N filters around oil vapors. You must replace R filters after each shift, but you may use them around oil mist. P filters last longer when used near oil mists.
Watch Your Health
The fumes produced by welding and soldering caused many health problems. In America and Europe, 20 percent of solder workers have asthma. Welding also causes asthmatic symptoms. Even at low exposure levels, welding metal with polyurethane paint can cause breathing problems, according to safety organization Work Safe Alberta. Breathing difficulties are only the beginning. Long-term exposure to fumes from welding could lead to cancer or metal fume fever.
Metal fume fever is an acute condition that develops within a few days of exposure to copper, beryllium, zinc oxide or manganese fumes. You may experience a day or two of high fever and chills in addition to other flu-like symptoms. Though you will recover from metal fume fever if you don't expose yourself to more fumes while you're sick, you can still develop long-term problems. Chronic conditions, including asthma, may manifest while you suffer from acute issues. Without protecting your lungs, you could experience both of these at the same time.
Work Safely When Welding
Safety when welding protects you both in the short and long term. Eye, skin and lung protection can mitigate the effects of working around the hazardous products of the welding process. With the right safety practices, you'll be able to avoid downtime away from the job caused by short-term illnesses from welding. You'll also be able to work years longer, since you may prevent the cancer hazard of working around welding fumes unprotected. The safety practices you use when welding ensure your health today and in the future.
Megan Ray Nichols is a STEM writer and blogger.