Welding hazards and how to prevent them

September 30, 2008
By: Marty Rice

Four of 1,000 welders lose their lives each year, and many more are seriously injured because they fail to follow safe welding practices. Welding hobbyists who follow the examples set on television are particularly susceptible to injury. In this article, Marty Rice reflects on moments in his welding career that illustrate the importance of welding safety.

Arc Welder

In my articles, I relate some of the funny, crazy, and scary things I've seen or had happen to me. I do this for several reasons. One, because some of the events are funny, and two, because I hope disclosing some of the scary stuff will help prevent the same thing from happening to someone just getting in the trade.

Some of the stuff I think is funny now was notfunny at the time. Not recognizing hazards in the shop or field can get you or someone else hurt or killed.

Listen and Learn

Back in my younger days I saw something that struck me as funny but could've been really bad. The guy it happened to danged sure wasn't laughing at the time. We were welding storage tanks at an Owens Corning factory. The tanks were located about five floors up with nothing underneath us but the ground. To get to the hopper, we had to lean ladders across an open space, so my buddy and I went to the floor above us to let down a rope to tie to the ladder so it wouldn't slip.

The floor grating we were on was not bolted down, which meant it could move, so it was real important to tie off the ladder from above. So this goofball apprentice leans his ladder over to the tank and begins to crawl up with his welding lead on his shoulder. Now I'm not judging the guy, because when I was a greenhorn I might've done the same thing. But the guy I was with was an old hand, and he told the guy to tie offthe ladder.

But this apprentice said he didn't need anyone telling him how to do it and proceeded to climb over to the tank. Rightwhen he got to the tank, that ladder started slipping down and it was like watching it in slow motion. It stopped in the horizontal position with that guy holding on for dear life. I swear, if the ladder had moved another inch, that guy would've gone"in the hole," falling five stories. He ever so gingerly scooted backwards as we ran over and plucked him off once he got close enough to us.

When I think about it now, the look on that guy's face was funny as heck, but at the time, I was freaked, because I was sure I was going to watch him fall to his death. (I later saw a buddy fall, and it has haunted me for years.)

The moral of this story is twofold. One, if an old hand gives you advice, you oughtto listen to him, and two, you can neverbe too careful out on the job!

I could write volumes about people getting hurt (including myself) because of ignorance, jacking around, and not following safety guidelines. I've been hurt bad twice because of the other guyon the job doing something stupid or wrong Far too many people do not take safety seriously enough and think"It won't happen to me."

Plenty of Bad Examples

If you want to see some blatant disregard for safety practices, just watch some of the cable TV shows. They offer many examples of people not recognizing the importance of safety and setting dangerous precedents for anyone considering welding as a hobby—using tools with the guards removed; not wearing safety glasses when using grinders, drills, and brushes; and not clamping down steel that is being grinded, drilled, or brushed.

It reallydrives me nuts when someone tacks or runs a small bead without wearing a hood! There's a great idea for ya: Use your little onion-skin-thick eyelids to protect your eyes from ultraviolet radiation and thousands-of-degrees hot molten metal.

Using a cutting torch without wearing cutting goggles—again risking UV radiation and molten metal injury—is another example.

Stupid Is As Stupid Does

One of the worst stories I ever heard was from a nurse who told me about a guy who used a cutting torch without wearing cutting goggles and got a glob of molten metal in his eye, destroying most of the sight in that eye. A few years later the same guy did it againand, you guessed it, damaged his othereye! I'm sure he figured it wouldn't happen twice.

Many times I've seen someone on the job use clear safety glasses or no glasses at all to make just that one cut. Unbelievable what people will risk because they are too lazy to go get the right equipment.

I'm all the time having to tell my high school knuckleheads to knock off that crap and hearing,"But that's how they do it on TV!" I won't include my reply here because a parent might be reading this.

Nowadays attention to safety is a lot better than before, especially on the big jobs. When my buddy and I were working at a General Motors plant, he received a verbal warning just for taking his safety glasses off to wipe the sweat off his face. Is that going overboard? At the time I thought so, but looking at it another way, I know it takes only a split second for something to happen. (Did I laugh at him? Of course.)

On that job you got a verbal warning for a first safety violation, were sent home for a day for the second, and sent home for good the third time.

Later on I got a warning for not being tied off, even though I was just 12 feet off the ground. Did I protest? I might've had a couple of choice words, but I was the one in the wrong, and after that I tied off like they asked me to. Did my buddy laugh and make fun of me? Yep.

Learn and Follow

In welding there are all kinds of hazards that you really need to acquaint yourself with and learn how to prevent. You also have to follow the rules.

I tell my students to think of practicing safety in our shop as similar to riding a motorcycle. If you don't learn how to ride and don't treat the bike with great respect, you will get an asphalt suntan or worse. If you don't learn and practice safety procedures in the shop and field, you can and will get hurt using our equipment.

Don't Become a Statistic

OSHA says there are currently about four fatal deaths per 1,000 over a lifetime in welding. That's scary! As a matter of fact, when I think about my job, teaching high school welding, it sometimes makes me want to go into my closet and curl up into the fetal position. But it makes me feel good to know I hopefullyam influencing the welders of the future to work safe, and perhaps they will influence others.

I've seen guys get hurt and killed on the job firsthand, and it is the worst feeling in the world. Even worse is seeing the hurt, forlorn, lost faces of their families.

I've been hurt bad, experienced awful pain, and felt the emotional pain of wondering how I would provide for my family. There is no better, more articulate way of putting it—getting hurt sucks!

I've just covered the tip of the iceberg here; the links below are outstanding for more information about welding hazards and safety. Remember, when it comes to safety, stay out of the comfort zone. Nevertake safety for granted, nevercut corners on safety, and neverdo something that you feel is unsafe. You are important to your family, your buddies, your job, and your country. Work safe!

Welding, Cutting, and Brazing Safety and Health Topics from OSHA

American Welding Society Safety and Health Fact Sheets

2007 Fatal Industry Statistics

Marty Rice

Marty Rice

Contributing Writer
High School Career Center in Texas
Marty Rice is a welding instructor at a high school career center in Texas. He is an honorary member of the Ironworkers Local 263.


Questions for the author can be e-mailed to vickib@thefabricator.com