While welding is considered low-risk for backstrain and other work-related injuries, there's considerable potential for injury and adverse health affects from exposure to toxic fumes. The vapors produced by shielding gases and the melting of some metal alloys can be harmful to your lungs.
Metal sitting untended on the work table at 1000 degrees farenheit looks a lot like cold metal. And most welding involves an electric arc - with 120-250 amps of juice pouring out the torch and into molten steel. It's all pretty exciting, but a welder needs to be on his or her game at all times. Here are a few quick tips to keep in mind.
Many welders neglect to wear safety glasses when using their welding helmets. It seems redundant, but then the worker flips up that helmet after finishing a bead, starts chipping off the slag, and wham! -- a hot sliver of weld rockets up from the work and into an eye socket. ALWAYS wear eye protection. If it's not possible to wear safety glasses while you're under the hood, make sure you hang them on a chain around your neck.
On a hot day, orwhen making a quick pass along a weld joint, or even when they're routinely handling a MIG gun on a simple fabrication, welders neglect to cover their skin with a leather jacket or thick cotton garment. The next thing they know, they're brushing a bare arm against scalding hot metal near the weld they just completed. Another common mistake is wearing cuffs, either at the end of arm sleeves or pant legs. Smoldering bits of spatter get lodged in these openings and the only warning you get is the smell of your skin burning.
photo: The Fabricator
Get a whiff of that...
Sometimes stick welders, in an attempt to get a closer look at their joints, stick their noses right into the smoke stream spewing from the tip of their electrodes. Make sure you steer clear of this plume Manganese, chromium, nickel and other elements can cause serious adverse health effects if inhaled. (Check the MSDS on non-standard filler rods and take extra precautions if needed.) And always listen for the sound of the building ventilation system before you start welding. Forced-air circulation is loud, and it's required by law for most indoor welding. If you're working in your garage at home, open the garage door and side door (to get a cross-breeze) before you even think of striking an arc.
Gloves in the Grinder... Not everyone knows this, but a welder who grinds on a stationary grinder while wearing work gloves risks spraining a hand, or worse. That's because the bulkiness of gloves makes them as attractive to an exposed wheel as long hair or dangling jewelry. Take off your gloves before using a stationary grinder, sander or polisher. If your work piece is hot to the touch, hold it with some vice grips.
Rush job may take longer... -When you're in a rush to get something done, you might leave a document on the work bench beside your torch, or knock loose a grounding clamp, or neglect to tighten a collet, or allow the cords of multiple tools to get tangled together. All these scenarios can lead to injury, whether from an electrical shock or a sudden combustion of flammable material. Unless you're trying to prevent a nuclear meltdown, no job is so urgent that you must abandon safe work practices.
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Life is short for an ignorant welder... Never weld on galvanized metal, which contains extremely toxic zinc, or any metals that have come into contact with brake fluid, which emits a form of nerve gas known as Phosgene. For that matter, never weld on a vessel that has held gasoline, oil or another combustible liquid until it has been cleaned beyond clean. And never weld on any vessel that contains contents that are under pressure. For more on working with compressed gases, see our cylinder safety guidelines. Manganese is another material identified in recent years as being toxic, so always check the MSDS on non-standard filler rods and take extra precautions as needed.
Be tacky, prevent a concussion... Students who practice overhead welding occasionally forget that it's their head the workpiece is perched over. If you're using a work clamp arm or other fixture, make sure the plates are secure before you start welding. If you're just tacking a plate with a spot weld to hold it in place, use a sufficient amount of filler or MIG wire (no matter how long it takes to grind off later). And test the strength of that tack by pulling on it. Remember, heated metal expands and a tack weld may weaken in the course of running your beads.
Get particular about particulates... Unlike fumes, tiny particles of dust and metal are considered solids, yet they're light as a feather and float whenever they get kicked up into the air. Grinding, sanding, chipping, sweeping, or even a strong draft through a doorway can implant these grimy invaders inside your lungs, causing a chest cold and much worse things over time. It takes something as simple as a dust mask to guard your respiratory tract, yet surprisingly few metalworkers ever bother with this precaution. Since almost every workplace and school in the country has masks available for free, grab one and keep it handy with your other tools.
For a more in-depth look at the hazards of welding, you can downlowd the Safety Guide for Welding (PDF) from MillerWelds.com. Numerous health/safety fact sheets are available on the AWS website. More safety links are available on our Guides and Videos page.
If you have any website suggestions or concerns, email welder [at] thecityedition [dot] com.
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