Professional welders are constantly at risk on the job. Daily-use welding equipment puts out heat, sparks, metal, and fumes that are a danger. Welders are exposed to these threats for several hours of every day. Finding the best safety equipment is key. This means identifying the right type of protection for each job. Protective equipment should be usable and comfortable and the highest quality available.
It’s important that proper safety procedures be observed on any worksite. Obviously, it’s a responsibility that starts with the individual worker, but contractors as well as their clients need to be aware and assure that all necessary precautions are taken to provide for the protection of all workers as both an ethical and legal obligation.
To make understanding welding safety easier for everyone, this article will advantages of the various types of Personal Protective Equipment (PPE).
Welding Calls For Head to Toe Protection
PPE keeps welders protected from head-to-toe against even uncommon injuries.
This article will break equipment by head, torso, and legs/feet. In some cases, not every piece of equipment listed is necessary. For example, a welding jacket will cover the arms and torso completely. It would be redundant to wear both a welding jacket and a welding apron.
Each piece of protective equipment should conform to top safety standards. Protective equipment can also risk impeding mobility. Welding is a job that requires a lot of finesse, small movements, and bending/reaching. If safety gear is impeding a worker’s ability to perform their job, then conditions will be less safe. So, it is important to find that fine line of balance between safety and comfort/mobility.
With this in mind, let’s take a look at some PPE gear, from the ground up.
Legs and Feet
Legs and feet can often go forgotten in PPE equipment. Yet these limbs are at serious risk of falling pieces of scrap during weld-cut jobs. They also tend to be direct recipients of the bulk of sparks and flame. Bending and stooping are common positions for welders. Knee health is an overlooked concern as well.
Welding chaps come in a few different styles. But all welding chaps should provide good frontal coverage from the waist down. Materials for welding chaps should be tough suede and leather. Welding chaps can be either pants-style or full “coveralls” style. The coverall style welding chaps have a high enough bib that they make aprons redundant.
When working in welding, kneeling sometimes take up as much of the day as standing does. And often the kneeling takes place on rough surfaces. Kneepads serve to both protect the person wearing them and make life easier, and more comfortable. Kneepads will have a hard outer protective layer as well as interior cushions. This makes kneeling for extended periods of time less stressful for the joints. Some welding chaps will even have built-in kneepads and knee protection.
Boots are one piece of PPE that everyone knows and most people have. But in order for work boots to be adequate for a welding workshop, they’ll need a few uncommon features. Work boots should be made of leather to protect from heat, flames and sparks, using a fully-enclosed design. The soles should be pierce-proof and resistant to electric shocks. Rugged soles will protect the wearer from any sharp pieces of metal on the workshop floor. Work boots should also have steel toes or steel caps to protect from falling scrap pieces.
Chest, Arms and Hands
The torso is another highly at-risk area of the body. A welder’s hands and arms in particular are often “in the action,” closest to the work in progress. But the torso and neck are also at risk of flying sparks and scrap metal which can burn the user or cause a fire.
There is the greatest number of options for protecting the hands, arms, and torso. Welding jackets are a common option because they protect the neck, arms, and torso. But because welding jackets can be stiff and inhibit mobility, some techs prefer to use a combination of apron or bib and welding sleeves. Gloves, however, are always required.
Jackets are an excellent cover-all protection for welding work. Jackets have the advantage of being one piece of PPE that covers the torso, shoulders, arms, back, and neck. Jackets can range in material from fire-proofed wool to leather. These can be varied depending on the temperature of the workspace or mobility of a job.
A good welding jacket will be sturdy, fire-proofed material. They’ll protect from heat and flames, as well as protection against projectiles or stray scrap. Jackets should be protective without being restrictive. They should fully close in front with no gaps for stray sparks to get through. Jackets should always be worn in conjunction with gloves and other PPE.
Welding sleeves are part of an alternative option to a full welding jacket. They’re usually worn with aprons, gloves, and all the other necessary PPE. Welding sleeves are strong, fireproofed fabric that cover from the wrist to the shoulder. Some welding sleeves, called welding gauntlets, will also have built-in glove portions. The material can vary from lighter fireproofed fabrics to heavy suede and leather. Welding sleeves are good for jobs that need more arm movement, since shoulders aren’t restricted.
Aprons and Bibs
Aprons offer good protective coverage for at-risk parts of the torso. Combined with welding sleeves, arms will stay protected, but offer a freer range of motion than full welding jackets. Aprons have the added advantage of extending coverage without the need for a full suit-up. Aprons will typically be made of more resistant, sturdier materials than jackets. The open back means mobility is not restricted. Aprons also often have useful utility pockets.
Gloves are one of the most important pieces of protective equipment. Studies have shown that 1 in 4 workplace injuries involve fingers or hands. 70% of those injuries happen because no hand protection was in place, or gloves were used improperly.
Finding the right pair of gloves can be tricky. This is a piece of equipment where you will not want to sacrifice material strength and protection. At the same time, bulky and immobilizing gloves will risk causing more accidents. With gloves make sure to try products out before you buy them. If you can’t easily make a fist or pick things up wearing the gloves, they won’t be acceptable for a welding workshop.
Protecting the head is crucial in any line of work. But welding needs a different type of protection from, say, construction work. The main concerns with welders are sparks, heat & flame, stray pieces of molten metal, and high-velocity scrap. Additionally, welders are at risk of blindness due to the light put out by welding arcs.
Welding equipment often puts off toxic fumes (magnesium and zinc). Fumes cause damage to the lungs and central nervous system. Studies say this can cause permanent hearing loss and Parkinson’s-like symptoms.
The essential types of gear are included here.
Helmets and Auto-Darkening Lenses
Welding helmets are full-face, hardened helmets with special lenses. They are designed to protect the face, head, and hair from heat along with any stray sparks and scrap. A welding helmet is an absolutely essential piece of PPE. Welding helmets should be sturdy and cover the full face and head. An easy-to-use mechanism for lifting the mask away from the face is also important.
Most contemporary welding masks have auto-darkening lenses. The auto-darkening element uses a built-in sensor to detect when the welder is active. The technician can see even when the welder is not in use. Darkening features are battery-powered and often solar-charged so that there is no risk of failure. Make sure the mask is rated for the right level of protection based on the type of welding.
Glasses do not provide the same level of full-face protection that a mask does. They can still be useful as a piece of backup equipment or for simple weld-cut jobs. Glasses shouldn’t be used on their own and should be combined with a full-face respirator if necessary. Because welding puts out a significant level of UV light, some techs have reported receiving facial “sunburns” from prolonged jobs wearing only welding glasses.
Respirators are a crucial and often overlooked piece of PPE. This is because finding respirators that will fit under a welding mask can be tricky. A respirator must fit the user’s face snugly and use proper filters. Otherwise respirators can give a false sense of security.
Respirators can either be full-face, with a plastic or glass component to protect the face, or half-mask so that they only cover the nose and mouth. A half-mask will work best with welding helmets.
Make sure that the respirator has the proper filters for the type of welding that is being performed. TIG and MIG welding each give off different toxins and particles and will need different filters.
The type of respirator needed can vary according to the materials being worked on and also the location of the work. A small, enclosed space obviously presents more risk to the welder and so higher levels of respiratory protection would be needed. In an open-air location, a simpler system may be sufficient.
Hopefully this information clarifies the wide world of Personal Protective Equipment. The most important thing is to stay protected from head-to-toe. Look for PPE that keeps the fine balance of comfort without sacrificing safety. With comfort and security, welders can make the most of their work without concern.
This is a guest post by Bob Wells, a retired HVAC tech who now dedicates himself to sharing knowledge on his website HVAC Training 101. Bob worked over 30 years in the field, 23 of which he ran his own contracting business. He’s dedicated to keeping up with the latest developments in the field and helping others to learn the trade better and advance their own careers.