Welding is an important industrial activity, core to many metal fabrication applications. It has a long history and has been practiced for generations, but safety in welding shouldn’t be taken for granted.
Read the Manual
One of the first and most important safety steps in welding is reading the manual(s) and documentation that come with your equipment, plus any educational materials provided for your specific job or company. These resources are provided to keep you safe and to maintain quality in the work, so make use of them.
Wear Protective Clothing
The smallest spark can create a nasty burn, so avoid the pain by covering all exposed skin. Button up collars and cuffs, wear appropriate (such as leather) shoes and flame-resistant fabrics, and wear proper welding gear (including welding gloves, a welding helmet, and a welding jacket). Also make sure that there are no “hiding places” for sparks to land and smolder (such as folded up pant legs).
Avoid Fire and Electrical Hazards
Survey your work area for flammable materials, including fabrics, wood, paper, and liquids. Make sure your clothing—even if the fabric is flame-resistant—hasn’t been exposed to any flammable liquids as well. Verify that a working fire extinguisher is nearby.
Ensure that there is no standing water in the work area, which is an electrocution hazard. Inspect your equipment for any damage, especially to cords and hoses, and do not use damaged welding equipment. Use caution (and stay properly grounded) when working with metals that could conduct a charge, as this also poses a risk of electric shock.
Welding can generate smoke and fumes, so the task should be done in a properly ventilated area, such as an open space or a shop with a ventilation hood. When that’s not possible, it’s safest to use a respirator to avoid a health hazard.
Use Appropriate Lens Filtering
Just as your parents have always warned you not to look directly into the sun (and a whole host of meteorologists during the recent solar eclipse), so you should also protect your eyes from the eye-damaging light emitted while welding. Helmet lenses should provide the right darkening level for the type of welding you’re working on, and safety glasses belong under your helmet as well (along with ear protection). Auto-darkening helmets are a more advanced option that can be useful in a number of welding applications, and eliminate the neck strain of snapping your head down as you repeatedly lift and lower a fixed-shade helmet.
Ergonomics and Efficiency
In addition to the potential benefits of auto-darkening helmets on reducing neck strain, design a work environment that supports the way your body moves. Reduce motions that put repeated stress on the body, or may pull unnaturally on muscles or joints (such as stretching to reach for materials or tools). Use assistive gear for lifting and moving heavy objects. Keep your workstation at an appropriate height so your shoulders are relaxed and back, leg, and neck muscles aren’t strained. Ergonomics benefit the body, but can also add up to increased efficiency.
A safe welding environment should be your highest priority. You’ll be more productive, generate better work, and finish the day with a sense of accomplishment, rather than a trip to the emergency room. This age-old art has been elevated to new levels through current technology, and that includes protecting the welder. And with these steps of caution, you’ll combine safety and craftsmanship with wonderful results.