It is important to wear protective equipment such as hard hats and gloves when welding.
Compared to other industrial jobs, welding is quite dangerous. The occupational and health risks of this work can be avoided with proper equipment, safe materials and some common sense measures. Risks associated with welding include choking from hazardous inhalants, damage to the skin and eyes from ultraviolet light, electrical or chemical fires, and long-term negative effects from gases.
A person welding.
Most people think that sparks and arcs are the most dangerous aspects of welding because they draw attention to themselves, but they are just a risk. The glow of sparks, with their strong ultraviolet light, can cause cancer in unprotected eyes and skin. However, there is a wide range of equipment, such as self-darkening helmets and thick gloves, to reduce exposure. Also, sparks are usually not hot, but general precautions should be taken to keep wood or other combustible material out of reach of the welder’s arc. Placing heated metal on a flammable surface is more likely to start a fire.
A closeup of welding.
The main cause of health problems in welders is related to carcinogenic or toxic chemicals. These chemicals may be in a sealant or coating on the metal surfaces to be welded. Extreme heat releases molecules into the air, where they are easily inhaled.
Certain substances may also be embedded in the material itself, such as lead, cadmium, manganese, chromium or nickel in metals such as stainless steel, copper or zinc. These metals should only be welded with extreme care. Make sure you know exactly what they contain and work in an area with lots of air circulation. Symptoms of inhalation can range from a temporary flu-like illness to severe damage to the lungs, liver, and other organs. For example, manganese from manganese exposure is related to Parkinson’s disease.
Even when you are careful with sealants and metal varieties, the welding process always produces other dangerous gases. For example, a variation of oxygen called ozone is created with each arc. Ozone exists naturally in the atmosphere, but large concentrations of ozone displace oxygen. If you work in an enclosed space, normally safe gases can become too concentrated and cause edema, filling your lungs with water. Ozone, nitrogen oxide, and carbon dioxide build up, causing you to pass out, hit your head, or suffer brain damage.