Is welding dangerous? Well first off, welding is a great hobby and profession for tons of people around the world. It is a fun way to build home projects, and also a productive way for men and women to support their families. However, it does have its dangers – both short term and long term. This guide will inform you of the main dangers, and how to avoid them if you plan on welding.
Is Welding Dangerous?
With welding, there are many safety hazards that can easily be avoided in the short term. However, long term effects of welding can be more complicated.
Direct Skin Burns
The arc of an average Stick, TIG or MIG weld can reach upwards of 10,000 degrees fahrenheit. Although the arc is small and concentrated, it can pose serious risk in terms of burning skin. Welders understand the importance of this risk, and they invest in quality hoods, gloves and jackets that shield their skin at all times.
Most welding gloves and jackets are extremely heat resistant, and will fend off any sparks or spatter from welding arcs. One of the main reasons welders get burned is by accidentally touching hot metal that has been worked on. Many times, welders will take off their gloves and mistakenly touch a piece that has been welded on recently.
Depending on welding amperage and steel/aluminum thickness, a piece can easily take a half hour to cool down to its base temperature. This poses a danger in welding shops, and many welders will use a soap stone to mark their piece as hot- This ensures that their fellow coworkers will be aware of the danger.
Keep in mind, these types of contact burns are almost always 3rd degree. Unfortunately, welders learn this from experience. Even placing a finger on hot steel will cause extreme pain.
With Stick and MIG welding, the spatter has a mysterious way of finding any crevasse or rip in the welders clothing. Often times, a large spark can find its way down a welders glove or jacket. This is not completely avoidable, and sometimes it just happens. Gloves with elastic cuffs and jackets with larger collars can reduce this risk.
One of the worst ways of getting burned is having sparks or spatter travel into the ear. You may think the chances of this are slim to none, but any long time welder has a personal story about this. We wear earplugs at all times to dampen external sounds, but they also prevent foreign objects from entering.
Arc Flash/UV Burn Dangers
Todays welding hoods are top notch and very protective, but if they aren’t set properly then serious issues can occur. In our article on arc flash, we talk about the importance of choosing the correct lens shade.
Welding with any lens below a shade 10 can really mess your eyes up. This does depend on the welders light tolerance, but it is best to stay on the darker side when it comes to lenses. Our safest lens choices are between shades 10-13 depending on amperage.
An arc flash causes a burn very similar to a sunburn. The UV rays from a weld are extreme, and can burn any area of the body, face, or eyes. This can often be more painful than a direct burn mentioned above, and can take awhile to heal. Also, consider the long term skin dangers of UV rays. Multiple burns over a career can put you at more risk of skin problems as you age.
In welding shops, large welding screens are placed in between welders working on their different projects. Even an arc flash in your peripherals can cause eye damage over time.
Heavy Machinery/Shop Dangers
Working in a welding shop or out in the field can pose many dangers that aren’t from actual welding. Overhead hoists, heavy equipment misuse, and careless workers can all contribute to these dangers.
One of my welding instructors was an ironworker in her younger years. One day, another worker didn’t rig a beam correctly, and when they hoisted it the whole thing fell on her back. She crushed several vertebrae and it took her years to get back to normal.
There are tons of stories like this involving careless mistakes and serious injuries. They don’t happen all the time, but the consequences can be dire. This is one of the reasons that it often costs more to insure an ironworker than it does to pay them their hourly wage.
Larger shop machines such as mills, drill presses, and lathes are known to pose serious dangers. If the spindles catch on your glove or clothing, it can pull you into the machine without the machine ever stopping. Our shop doesn’t allow workers to wear gloves while using this equipment. It took a few months for my coworkers to trust me when using these machines, and newcomers aren’t allowed on them at all until properly trained.
Fumes/Long Term Effects
Long term exposure to welding fumes can cause all sorts of bodily issues. These fumes can effect your eyesight, immune system, and especially lungs.
There are a multitude of dangerous oxides in these fumes. Some folks are very sensitive and can get short term dizziness and nausea, while others never feel these effects. Long term effects can include lung cancer, COPD, loss of vision, kidney damage etc.
Wearing a proper respirator throughout your career will lower your chances of ill effects, but many welders opt out of this choice. They are uncomfortable (trust me) and also a real pain to wear in hot and humid conditions. Not wearing one over many years is comparable to smoking cigarettes. You might be fine, but some health effect will probably arise at some point.
This isn’t as much of an issue for home hobbyists, because they aren’t welding nearly as often as professionals, and their exposure is slim.
Proper ventilation can really help with avoiding some of these fumes. Open windows, fans, and fume extractors can get rid of a lot of fumes. However, some processes like Stick and Flux core MIG produce tons of smoke – these are best done outdoors when possible.
So is welding dangerous? Well, it certainly can be – but the dangers are very avoidable. We hope this gave you some insight into the dangers we face daily. Using proper protection is super important, but it is quite easy to stay safe as a welder as long as you follow safety precautions.