Does Welding Shorten Your Life?

As far as trades go, welding is considered more dangerous on the spectrum. There are many different positions in terms of welding job opportunities. Ironworking and underwater welding are usually more dangerous positions than being a fabricator at a shop. So, does welding really shorten your life expectancy?

This response article will cover the main ways in which welding could shorten your life. We will also give some tips to help you stay safe out on the job. While injuries do happen, common sense goes a long way. Having the proper clothing and gear can also reduce risk of injury.

Long Term Problems

The personal protective equipment industry (PPE) is a thriving business. Manufacturers of gloves, hardhats, safety glasses (and more) sell millions of items worldwide. Job sites and shops will require their workers to wear a certain amount of PPE based on the work being done. Hard hats and safety glasses are more mandatory, while respirators and ear plugs are more of a personal decision.

COPD Danger
                          Wikimedia Commons : National Heart Lung And Blood Institute

Choosing to wear a respirator is one of the best ways to maintain your longevity as a welder. Similar to smoking, your body just can’t handle it after so many years. COPD is common among older welders who haven’t worn respirators throughout their career.

Long term exposure to welding fumes can also weaken the immune system. It makes welders more likely candidates for certain cancers and sicknesses. Not only does wearing a respirator protect your lungs, it prevents nasty compounds from harming the rest of your body.

Many welders consider themselves “tough guys” and wearing a respirator just isn’t part of their routine. However, welders have realized in recent years that respirators are important. Middle aged welders that have developed respiratory symptoms have turned to respirators in hopes of preventing further damage.

Hard hats can prevent serious head injuries (to an extent). If a large piece of steel falls on you, a hard hat will only help so much. However, for smaller items that fall from above, hard hats are a great preventive measure.

Not wearing earplugs won’t kill you, but long term hearing damage is a serious burden to deal with. Tradesmen that have avoided ear plugs may find that their hearing diminishes a lot over time. Whether we’re in the shop or out in the field, we always have our earplugs in.

Big Accidents

The other side of the coin here is a catastrophic accident. A beam falling on a welder, a fire or a metal fume fever can all contribute to a shortened life.

Generally, large beams falling are rare, but they tend to happen more on large ironworking projects for buildings and skyscrapers. Most welding companies will have a story about when the I-beam fell on ol’ Billy; but usually it doesn’t happen. Proper beam rigging techniques can prevent this, but accidents do happen every once in awhile. I-beams weigh so much that they can crush an object instantly if they fall.

I beams
                                                      Wikimedia Commons

Metal fume fever can happen when someone welds on galvanized steel without wearing a respirator. The zinc compounds that coat this steel are very toxic when burned. This fever refers to the sickness that happens when a welder inhales too many fumes coming from the galvanized steel. This is why it’s important to grind as much galvanized coating off as possible before you begin welding – try to limit your exposure as much as you can.

For welders that work with a lot of galvanized steel, we recommend wearing a respirator at all times, or just find a different job. Welding on galvanized metals for the length of a career is just not worth it (in our opinion). Sure, it will pay the bills – but you can seriously compromise your health.

Often times the metal fume fever is minor. It can resolve within hours if it isn’t an extreme case. However, if you plan on welding lots of zinc coated material, make sure there is proper ventilation. Again, a respirator can solve these issues by wearing it consistently throughout the day. The nice 3M or Miller respirators with the replaceable filters are the ones we use. A mask that you wear during this pandemic isn’t going to cut it. The professional filters are designed to catch 99.9% of harmful particles.

Galvanized Steel
                                           Galvanized Steel : Pikist.com

Welders can also be prone to taking large falls. For ironworkers especially, harnesses must be used while welding from great heights. Most of the time shop welders don’t have to deal with this; but ironworkers may be hundreds of feet in the air at times. Being trained for harness techniques is mandatory for these types of jobs. If you join the ironworkers union, it will be necessary to gain this knowledge.

If heights aren’t your cup of tea, then ironworking is not the best career choice. However, there are many other welding jobs available that are considered much safer.

Shop fires and cylinder explosions can happen under certain circumstances. Welders should always have a large fire extinguisher nearby, to put out any fires that arise during the course of a work day. For field welding and jobs done outside, having a fire watcher is always a good practice. This is an employee who is often paid less, but will extinguish any fires before they can spread.

Fire
                                                             Pixabay.com

Certain gas cylinders can explode when dropped from larger heights. Gases like oxygen can be very prone to this if a flame is nearby, which is why they must be strapped down very tight during transport. If a welder gets lazy and doesn’t strap their cylinders to their truck, serious problems can arise. Highway cylinder spills can cause others to be in grave danger, use the right straps and always follow DOT rules.

As mentioned in our TIG welding articles, argon can pose dangers to welders when working in confined spaces. Since argon is heavier than air, a gas leak in a basement can fill the TIG welders lungs up very quickly. This often results in a visit to the emergency room, where the doctors have to drain the lungs to get the nasty argon out.

Making sure your gas cylinder has no leaks is a great preventive measure. Spray the top down with soapy water and look for bubbles near the threads of the regulator.

General Exposure

It should be noted that being in a welders environment is inherently more dangerous than a regular job. The fumes, particles and heavy objects are something that office workers just don’t have to deal with.

When you look at it from this perspective, it makes sense that a welders life expectancy could be considered shorter than other workers.

Even if you wear proper PPE and follow safety procedures, you’ll still get exposed to a certain amount of dangerous fumes , compounds and particles. We find this trade extremely rewarding, so the dangers that come with it don’t worry us too much.

However, many older welders will find that their current poor health state is due to their lack of care as a younger welder. PPE just wasn’t as big of a deal in the older days; welders didn’t know any better, and less contractors were enforcing it regularly.

A welder and an office worker are generally two very different people. It takes a certain type of person to learn a trade instead of going the traditional route. We do care about our health, but we understand that there are risks associated with our profession.

Getting Shocked

Electric sign
                                                             Pixabay.com

Welding in adverse weather conditions is usually the main way that a welder gets shocked. Having wet gloves or a wet stick welding rod can cause the electricity to travel to your body (usually through your gloves and into your hands).

This is why it’s always recommended to weld when the weather is stable. Welding in the rain and snow is dangerous, and wet steel can cause shocks to happen as well.

Although these types of shocks are usually less severe than an underwater welding shock, it is still best to avoid them. This is why field welders often get a day off when it is pouring rain. The risks of electrical injury are just too great.

It is also not wise because running a welding machine in the rain can damage its internal components. Most engine drives can withstand rain, but the machine should be off while it is raining. Running machines during bad weather conditions can fry essential internal components.

Underwater Welding

Underwater Welder Job
                                                      Wikimedia Commons

Underwater welding is dangerous in multiple ways. Often times the boss pulls the welder up too fast from the bottom of the ocean. This can cause “the bends” and really wreaks havoc on the welders body. The welder often doesn’t have time to acclimate to the depths, and this is terrible for their health.

Electrical shock can also happen while underwater welding. Intense training is required to become an underwater welder; one wrong move and you can seriously injure yourself from electricity.

Although electric shocks can happen during normal welding procedures, they are even more common when welding underwater. This is because when a welder forgets to ground their workpiece (with a ground clamp), the electrical current travels freely throughout the water when they strike an arc. Since the welder is submerged, it is no wonder that the electricity will travel to them quickly and shock them.

This type of shock leads to more fatalities (electrocutions) because the welder experiences more voltage traveling to their body. They can also drown in some cases.

This contrasts a lot with regular welding operations. If you forget to ground your project in the fabrication shop, the arc will simply not start. When the arc doesn’t start, you’ll usually remember that you forgot to clamp it to your metal. No big deal.

Structural Steel
                                                         Pixabay.com

More things can go wrong, such as oxygen failures, injuries etc. It is a more grueling process that only the toughest welders will be able to handle. It often requires lots of travel, so it will be hard to live a good family life and stay grounded in your city.

Many underwater welders live a long time, but the likelihood of a serious injury is more prevalent.

Wrap Up

In conclusion, a welders life expectancy could be considered shorter in a lot of instances. We aren’t aware of any conclusive study that details this, but we do have our opinion.

Just like any fun activity, there are risks involved. Some are long term and some things (like accidents) can pose dangers in the short term.

We think welding is a great career that more young people should get into. There is a shortage of welders across America, and saying “no” to the traditional 4 year degree may be a great decision for some younger folks. Leaving liberal arts college to start welding school was a great decision that I am proud to have made.

With that being said, welding isn’t for everyone. It is a physically demanding job that can wear down your body over time. It also doesn’t pay as well as some white collar jobs.

Whether you’re choosing welding as a career or you just want to fabricate something in your garage, we think everyone can have fun with a welding machine. As long as you use common sense and wear proper equipment, you should have little risk of injury.

 

Featured image credit : publicdomainfiles.com