The United States manufacturing industry has seen some uncertainty in recent years. Production levels have plateaued, exports are down, the dollar is too strong for foreign buyers to stomach, and the low price of oil has thrown a once-lucrative industry into a tailspin (Meckstroth, 2016). Even so, US manufacturing is resilient and tales of its demise are greatly exaggerated. Some forecasters predict a nearly 5% growth over the next two years thanks to strong demand for automobiles and industrial equipment. That’s good news for one of the mainstays of the American manufacturing sector: welders.
As manufacturing recovers, a new generation of welders will be joining the industry looking to veterans to pass the torch, no pun intended. Perhaps the most important duty these mentors have is passing on a safety mindset to the next generation. If anybody in the American workforce understands the need for workplace safety, it’s the men and women stuffed into confined spaces or dangling from scaffolds who literally carry white hot fire in their hands.
Keep an Eye on Your Eyes
To keep these fire-wielders safe, an array of safety equipment is on the market. This gear focuses on guarding the more vulnerable body parts, like the face or hands, and is engineered to protect the wearer from high heat and intense light. Yet even when proper personal protective equipment (PPE) is worn, injuries sometimes still occur.
The most universally recognized piece of safety equipment in a welder's kit is the mask, which is designed to protect you from the intense light, heat, and sparks welding entails. Despite the protection these helmets offer, eye injuries account for a quarter of all welder's worker's compensation claims, according to a study by a BMJ Research Group (Lombardi, 2004). These eye-watering facts stand out among the injuries:
Foreign bodies are the leading cause of welders' eye injuries. Foreign objects can be anything from dust to a metal shard, and this study found most were either particulates or small solids lodging themselves in an eye.
The second leading cause, burns, mainly occur from overexposure to the light a welding torch puts off. To put it in layman's terms, its a sunburn on your eyes. Ouch!
We may be quick to point fingers at malfunctioning PPE as the source of these injuries, but the BMJ study revealed that PPE was only mentioned in about 15% of the workers comp claims. Within this fraction, about a third was attributed to failure to wear safety gear.
20% of the injuries occurred after removing their PPE during a job.
7% occurred while not wearing any PPE at all.
No matter how experienced you are, the oxyacetylene torch and sparks it emits can cause serious damage. Properly utilizing your PPE is the first step to complete safety, even when it becomes a burden to wear. As the facts show, just wearing your protection sometimes isn't enough; keep a constant watch on your surroundings and have an understanding of other risks that are part of the territory.
Fumes, Fires, and Shocks
If carrying a torch capable of melting metal wasn't dangerous enough, welders also operate under critical conditions that would make an average person's heart skip a beat.
The welding process gives off fumes and gasses containing potentially dangerous metal particles, so proper ventilation, fans, and exhaust are essential to keeping workers safe. Inhaling these particles, especially hexavalent chromium used in alloy steel, can cause lung damage, cancer, and stomach ulcers. If you experience nausea or irritation in your eyes, throat, or nose, immediately leave the area you are in (OSHA, 2013).
Electric shock also presents a formidable danger for the welder. This occurs when a body part contacts energized metal and becomes a conductor for electricity. Electric shock can result in death, either from the electricity or a fall caused by the shock. Avoid working around "hot" (energized) parts, wet conditions, and keep insulation as a buffer between any hazardous areas.
Lastly, fires caused by sparks emitting from a work area a real danger. Before beginning a project, inspect your surroundings (including areas below you, if elevated) for flammable items. Know where your fire alarms are located and any procedures your company has in place, and be prepared to act if an emergency occurs.
OSHA has several welding regulations that apply to the activity itself, in addition to hazards like air contaminants and environments like shipyards and confined spaces. Click any of the orange links below to learn more in depth about each OSHA regulation.
• Welding, Cutting & Brazing—29 CFR 1910 Subpart Q
• Welding & Cutting—29 CFR 1926 Subpart J
• Welding, Cutting & Heating—29 CFR 1915 Subpart D
• Permit-required confined spaces—29 CFR 1910.146
• Confined & Enclosed Spaces & Other Dangerous Atmospheres in Shipyard Employment—29 CFR 1915 Subpart B
• Hazard Communication—29 CFR 1910.1200
• Respiratory Protection—29 CFR 1910.134
• Air Contaminants—29 CFR 1910.1000 (general industry), 29 CFR 1915.1000 (shipyards), 29 CFR 1926.55 (construction)
The manufacturing industry, specifically the welding sector, will continue to recover and evolve with advancements in the foreseeable future. No matter the direction it takes, human safety is the main concern when operating welding equipment. ORR Safety not only provides welding gear to keep you safe but is on the front line advocating for a comprehensive safety mindset for all. Click the image below to view one of ORR Safety's exclusive welding protection products or click here to talk to a representative about our safety programs.
Lombardi (2004) Welding related occupational eye injuries. Retrieved from: http://injuryprevention.bmj.com/content/11/3/174.full.pdf+html
Meckstroth, Dan (2016) U.S. Industrial Outlook: Manufacturing Production Growth Is Disappointingly Slow. Retrieved from: https://www.mapi.net/forecasts-data/us-industrial-outlook-manufacturing-production-growth-disappointingly-slow
OSHA (2013) Controlling Hazardous Fume and Gases during Welding. Retrieved from: https://www.osha.gov/Publications/OSHA_FS-3647_Welding.pdf