Protective equipment for workers who operate various kinds of industrial machinery is a non-negotiable necessity, and if you are a welder, this is a most obvious observation. However, staying safe in this field of work incorporates a broad spectrum of precautionary measures well beyond the most elementary gear.
Each of the different forms of welding are loaded with hazards, and whether you are a construction worker or a metal sculptor, you are immediately aware of the obvious risks, such as burns and eye damage associated with light, spark, and fragments. These are all serious and constant risks, yet some of the most insidious ones are invisible. If these risks apply to you, it is imperative that you take action to provide yourself with all the necessary means to protect you and your fellow workers from both visible and invisible hazards.
Establishing a safe environment for you and your colleagues requires considerable attention to detail. This means sourcing out the appropriate equipment for your work area and maintaining high air quality throughout all breathing zones.
Welding hazards are numerous, the less obvious ones being the most commonly overlooked. Different types of welding present some of their own set of risks, whilst other risks are of a general nature and apply to all welding situations. Some of the more easily neglected hazards are listed below and pertain to the three main types of welding most commonly practiced in metal work. These welding types are manual metal arc welding (MMA), Tig, and Mig welding. All these hazards need to be identified, measured and assessed as part of regular health and safety checks.
Electrical and Magnetic Fields
The risk of electric shock is the most serious immediate risk posed to welders, especially to MMA and Tig welders. Welding equipment must only be installed by suitably qualified people. It is important that each operator check their work set-up before commencing a welding job as accidents often occur from inadequate preparation.
All welding produces radiation, although to varying degrees. A good example is electromagnetic radiation over broad and varying wavelengths. The types of radiation of most concern to welders are ultraviolet (UV) and infrared (IR). Burns to skin or eyes may only become apparent some time after welding is completed, thereby making it especially difficult to monitor during a job.
Welding Fumes and Gases
Welding also produces different types of fumes which vary according to the type of welding being carried out. These include a variety of both visible particulate and invisible gaseous fumes. They may include highly toxic cadmium or manganese fumes, although the degree of this depends on what is being welded. Many particulate fumes are produced from aluminium fluorides, oxides, and chlorides. Bodily damage sustained through welding fumes depends on their volume, composition, and level of exposure.
Most Common Injuries
Eye injuries account for the most typical injuries sustained by welders, especially the condition commonly known as "arc eye". Various burn injuries are also common, as exposed skin is vulnerable to airborne particles, slag, and even molten metal. As for exposure to fumes, immediate symptoms include headache, dizziness, nausea, eye and skin irritation, and in extreme cases, asphyxiation. Inhalation of gaseous and particulate fumes account for other injuries that occur from exposure over a period of many years. These include Parkinson's disease, which attacks the central nervous system. Other gradually developing illnesses include a variety of respiratory disorders.
Surprisingly, another long term injury from exposure to welding fumes is actually hearing loss, as repeated breathing of welding fumes can lead to audio nerve damage. On top of that, when ear protection is not used, prolonged welding noise can cause minor damage to audio nerve cells. This damage is accumulative and irreparable.
The below chart lists some of the common hazards that can be managed adequately well through a thorough workplace setup. This includes a maintenance routine, all required protective clothing, and air cleaning equipment. It lists only the common although too often overlooked aspects of welding safety.
Professional installation and regular maintenance
Arc eye and burns
Skin and eye protection
Nerve, lung and respiratory damage
This chart should be used in conjunction with any information from the relevant health and safety regulations. It a general guide only and is not exhaustive of all risks, injuries, and their associated remedies.
Essential Equipment for Welders
The range of equipment recommended for welders to use in order to comply with health and safety regulations may be extensive in some locations but not in others. Although these regulations vary from place to place, welding associated dangers do not. Below are a few examples of some of the essential equipment that all welders should use. Such equipment can easily be obtained from eBay at very reasonable prices.
Fume extractors are essential for both short- and long-term health for you and your colleagues, yet they are one of the most commonly neglected pieces of apparatus, especially in small business. These extractors are available in large or small sizes according to demand, but whichever type you choose, you must ensure the exhaust arm is positioned correctly, with the exhaust no more than a few centimetres from the weld itself.
You should also position the exhaust to the opposite side of your body as you weld so that the toxic air is sucked away from you and not into your breathing zone. Many welders use a fan to disperse toxic air, but this merely displaces oxygen and is inadequate for maintaining clean breathing zones in the workplace.
Welding Helmets, Goggles, or Glasses
Protective gear for the face is an obvious need for welders, but one which calls for a "both and" approach rather than an "either or". Many welders use either a pair of goggles or a helmet, depending on the type of welding job they are doing. However, sparks can fly under welding helmets and enter the eyes. For most welding jobs therefore, you should wear sealed goggles under your helmet. Of course, the type of goggles or welding glasses you choose needs to fit comfortably under your chosen helmet.
Welding helmets are a must for protecting the face and neck, and many modern helmets include auto darkening lenses. The lenses are supposed to go dark as you begin the job, but make sure to only buy quality helmets as the auto darkening feature on cheap helmets is often inadequate.
The type of ear protection used for a welding job depends somewhat on the type of helmet, goggles, or face mask used. Any quality ear muff or plug can offer the needed protection.
Welding gloves vary, and you should keep several pairs so that you can adapt as situations demand. Heavy welding necessitates long, leather gloves that are of good quality. However, Tig welding often requires you to use a smaller and shorter glove type.
Welding jackets are another essential item that you should not consider doing without if you want to protect yourself from burns. Although not always essential in certain light welding circumstances, these are a must for any work that involves vertical or overhead welding. Cowhide leather welding jackets are especially effective in diffusing spark and flame.
Welding overalls are the ideal for full body protection, as they protect the legs, which are otherwise vulnerable. You should always choose flame retardant overalls for welding. Although many of these overalls are not necessarily welding-specific and are designed for various other types of work in the fabrication field, they nevertheless provide the right protection. As with most other protective gear, you should only purchase high quality overalls. All clothing worn underneath the overalls should be of natural fibre and free of all synthetics.
Welding boots are typically leather and steel capped. Although these boots are protective, they have largely been superseded by boots made from modern materials that are lighter, warmer, and more insulation. The toes of such boots are made of a composite material which, unlike steel, is not magnetic. The soles of these boots contain anti-perforation textiles, which offer greater flexibility, making them supremely comfortable. It is important that you choose a pair capable of withstanding 300 degrees Celsius on the soles.
How to Buy Protective Welding Gear on eBay
When you have ascertained which welding safety gear you need, eBay should be the first point of call before making a purchasing decision. To search for the available listings of your needed item or items, enter a search string, such as welding boots, and use the filters if you need to refine your search. Upon finding a few potential purchases, make careful note of all details given within the listings, such as item specifications, information on its performance, or any signs of manufacturing guarantees. Also, check the seller's returns policies and postage options, then compare that information with potential items listed by other sellers. Check if the seller has other similar items available through their eBay store, if they have one, as this further expands your options.
It is advisable that you get to know something about your seller before you commit to a purchase. Consult their buyer feedback details and seller rating score, which can help you to make a decision. This is especially worthwhile for expensive items, as you need to feel confident in both your items and seller.
Providing full protection from welding hazards for both yourself and your colleagues are neither too difficult nor too expensive. eBay lists most of the protective gear needed by welders at prices that can save you a bundle from regular retail.
Whether your welding activities form part of a daily job or are undertaken as a home hobby, you should remember that putting your safety and that of those around you first is an investment for the future. Nobody wants to turn something that should be a normal part of fabricating, sculpting, or repair work into a casualty zone. It is easy to become complacent about the simple jobs, the ones that can be done in a few minutes, but it is here that danger especially lurks. The simpler and quicker a job appears to be, the less care is too often taken, and adequate preparation is not made. Adopting a healthy fear and respect for the tools of industry is perhaps the number one safety precaution, and if so, then this especially applies to welding.