Welding can be one of the most dangerous professions for anyone to tackle. Welders can expose themselves to a variety of hazards, some of which might not be too obvious until it’s already too late to matter.
That’s why every expert welder I know recommends following stringent safety guidelines whenever they weld. These welding safety tips aren’t just for beginners either: many pros still follow these protocols to the letter. Not only do they improve your performance, but they offer a lot of other benefits as well.
If you’re interested in learning more about safety tips to follow when welding, the most common risks a welder will face, and other useful information to keep in mind when doing your work, then this is the article for you.
What Hazards Do Welders Face?
The tricky thing about welding is that the dangers may not be apparent. Sure, there’s the obvious stuff like burns and sparks, but some welders I’ve talked to (especially the ones who have been doing this for a while) tell me that the most dangerous hazards are the ones that creep up on you after you’ve been welding for a while.
There are 7 hazards commonly associated with welding:
- Light exposure
- Electric shocks
- Ultraviolet radiation (or arc-eye)
- Fumes and gases
Fortunately, these can be avoided with a bit of foresight, self-awareness, and the right gear. The one thing you should keep in mind that these dangers are ever-present as long as you keep welding. They won’t magically disappear even if you get better at welding. All you can do is to make sure that you’re always protected against them.
The Top 5 Welding Safety Tips To Follow
So now that you know all the nasty stuff that can happen to you, how do you prevent them from happening? Here are several tips I’ve compiled from my experience and with talking to other welders:
Know Your Equipment
The best way to avoid injury is to understand what are the things that might injure you. In welding, those are often your equipment.
I often like to joke that half of welding is sitting down and studying about welding, but it’s true! The one thing you should have always read before doing any job is the manufacturer’s instructions for the equipment you’re using. Welders have a wide variety of equipment at their disposal and understanding how each of them works is key to avoiding injuries while using them.
This tip covers both your equipment’s operation and maintenance. Your weld is half-determined by how good your equipment is, and the only way to keep your equipment in good shape is to maintain it. I’ve seen too many welders buy top-of-the-line equipment and fail to maintain them.
Never weld without checking your equipment. Just because it worked all right the day before doesn’t mean it’ll work okay now – and the difference between disaster and a good job can be in something as small as checking your equipment before turning it on.
Always Wear Safety Equipment
Do you know the saying “the clothes make the man?” Well, I’d argue that welders have an even better one: “the protective gear makes the welder”. That’s because while some jobs need people to dress to impress, welders need to dress to stop themselves from burning up.
There are 5 essential personal protective equipment (or PPE) that a welder should always have:
- Welding helmets with side shields (ideally with an adjustable lens filter for better visibility)
- Fire-resistant clothing (I recommend leather or flame-resistant cotton – avoid synthetics!)
- Respirators (always choose the one with the best fit for your face for maximum protection)
- Ear protection (fire-resistant and molded for comfort if you’re welding for a long time)
- Boots and gloves (insulated gloves and steel-toe capped safety shoes work really well)
Do not start welding if you’re missing one of the pieces above. I know it can be tempting to just get the job done without them, especially if it’s a small weld, but it’s better to be safe than sorry. I’ve gotten my fair share of burns and bumps that could’ve been easily avoided if I had the right PPE on.
Check For Air Circulation Around Your Work Area
While it’s easy to see and avoid the sparks coming off your weld, there’s a far more subtle risk that you can expose yourself to: gas.
Welding produces a lot of toxic gas from the fumes and oxidation process of whatever you’re welding. And since you need to be up close and personal to weld, you can end up inhaling a lot of it if you aren’t careful.
This is where the respirator from the previous section comes in handy, but you shouldn’t completely rely on it either. After all, there will be periods where you don’t wear your respirator in your welding area, and there’s no guarantee that the gases will be gone by then. Always make sure that there’s proper ventilation whenever you weld.
You can use a mix of natural and mechanical ventilation to make sure that your space is clear of gas. You can work outside, use a fan to blow away the gas, or exhaust vents in your walls or roof to get air contaminants out. Whatever it is, just make sure that you have room and the right air quality to breathe.
What I often do to make sure I’m not breathing in the fumes from my weld is that I avoid the fume plume (the visible column of smoke that comes from the area that I’m welding) from hitting my face. I also vent my work area even if I’m not welding, just to make sure that any residual gases don’t settle.
Make Sure There’s Nothing Flammable In The Vicinity
So you have your PPE, the right equipment, and a functioning exhaust system. It should be fine to weld now, right? No.
One mistake that even seasoned welders make is forgetting to check for flammable objects around your welding area. These can be small things like bits of paper, some loose wire, or shavings off other projects. They could also be big things, like an oxygen tank (if you use an oxygen jet) or other people.
Welding produces a lot of sparks. And while these sparks can bounce off you and your PPE, they can easily land on anything else that isn’t flame resistant. And because you may have ear protection on and lens visibility up, you may notice nothing is on fire till it singes your trousers.
It isn’t just sparks either. The ambient heat and any hot metal can jump from your welds onto something flammable, so making sure you’re not anywhere near something that can be set on fire is critical.
You can reduce the likelihood of this happening by welding in an open area, but the best way of preventing any fires is to remove flammable objects or store them in flame-resistant containers. I do most of my welding on a work table positioned three feet from anything else.
Never Be Complacent
Finally, the best safety tip I can give to any experienced or novice welder is to never get too comfortable. It can be tempting to think that you’ve understood everything that you need to do before a weld, especially if you’ve settled on a routine. But I can tell you from personal experience that it’s that precise mindset that can put you most at risk.
I’ve heard and seen many welder’s injuries come from being complacent. You can end up with singed hair or maybe some clothes that got set on fire. Worst-case scenarios can land you in the hospital, cause thousands in property damage, or just plain mess up your weld.
Welding is a profession of basics. Understanding the basics of welding, the basics of protecting yourself, the basics of how to keep an efficient and safe workplace are the keys to making sure that you become a successful welder.
You might come up with your own guidelines and rules to follow with your own experiences welding, but these five are the top ones that every welder should know.
Welding can be a safe job to do, but only if you have the proper guidance, protective equipment, and practice. Many welders I know will not even start their welds until they’re sure that they – and anyone else in the vicinity – are adequately protected from potential injury or harm.
Following welding safety tips doesn’t just prevent workplace hazards: it also helps with transforming your workbench or welding area into a more efficient space. You’ll notice that some tips I talked about don’t actually involve welding that much. It’s more of how you approach welding, the tools that you use, and the mindset that you have which can help you avoid injury.
Finally, if you’re ever unsure about what you should do when you weld, the internet is home to hundreds of welding groups and communities that share tips and general info with one another. I like to check places like r/Welding, though you can always do a quick Google search to see if there are any welders near your area.
With the right precautions and a lot of practice, you can expect to come up with some pretty impressive welds of your own in the future.