May 13, 2008
Welding injuries, from minor welding flash burns to serious third-degree burns, can be painful and, in extreme cases, can cause disfigurement and lead to career-ending disabilities. Wearing the proper personal protective equipment (PPE) is an easy way welders can help protect themselves against these risks and preserve their livelihood.
Durable jackets and pants, steel-toe boots, a helmet with full facial protection, impact-resistant eyewear, and a good pair of protective gloves. At first glance, the list of personal protective equipment worn by welders could be confused with the gear worn by first responders or someone on the front line of battle. Yet, because welding hazards can be so extreme, a high level of protection is necessary for the risks that welders encounter.
Welding injuries, from minor welding flash burns to serious third-degree burns, can be painful and, in extreme cases, cause disfigurement and lead to career-ending disabilities. Wearing the proper personal protective equipment (PPE) is an easy way welders can help protect themselves against these risks and preserve their livelihood.
Jackets, pants, coveralls, overalls, aprons, hoods, sleeves, and a combination of capes, sleeves, and bibs are a few of the viable apparel options available to welders today. When selecting protective clothing, welders should ask themselves what materials offer the best protection for their application. Garments should be made of a durable, flame-retardant (FR) material that provides spark protection and abrasion resistance, and they should be sized to fit properly.
Flame-retardant Cotton. Often called sateen (9 oz.), whipcord (12 oz.), or FR denim (14 oz.), this material is ideal for light welding applications when the product is directly in front of the welder. FR cotton is commonly used in jackets, coats, pants, coveralls, overalls, aprons, sleeves, hoods, and cape/sleeve/bib combinations. It is relatively lightweight and can be laundered up to 50 times without losing its FR characteristics. It is relatively low in cost, and breathes better than leather and heavier materials.
However, improper laundering can shorten its wear life and reduce FR properties. Because it should be used only in light welding applications, its usefulness is limited for welders who work on a variety of applications. Unfortunately, because welding conditions are often hot, many welders choose FR cotton for all applications and therefore expose themselves to additional hazards.
Leather. Most commonly split leather, this versatile material can be worn for most welding applications and in all positions, including overhead welding. The hand that holds the welding gun also requires a welding glove, usually insulated leather. Leather is much more durable than FR cotton, is reasonably priced, and can be used in more welding applications, giving the welder more bang for the buck.
Leather weighs more than FR cotton and does not breathe as well. In fact, it holds heat in rather than releasing it from the body. Leather apparel comes in the same options as FR cotton, in addition to leggings, spats, and boots for leg and foot protection, and gloves and hoods for hand and head protection.
Indura® and Nomex®. Indura, by Westex, is a cotton fabric that also has FR properties that will last the life of the garment if washed properly.
Nomex is a DuPont product that has greater flame-resistant properties and will actually swell when flames or sparks contact it, further protecting the welder. The FR properties in garments made from Nomex will never wash out.
Both materials are used in a range of welding applications, but they are expensive.
With a solid foundation of apparel protecting the body, welders also must wear the right accessories to further protect their head and eyes. Welders do not need to pay a lot for quality, but instead should focus on those accessories that provide the right safety features.
Welding Helmets, Hoods, and Bandanas. Proper head covering is extremely important while on the job site. A bandana, tie hat, or beanie made from FR cotton provides a thin layer of protection between the head and welding helmet. Welding helmets or hoods cover the entire face and the upper brow areas, ensuring complete face protection from the open flame and sparks. They also utilize tinted lenses to protect the eyes and allow for optimal view of the object being welded. Helmets are secured with an adjustable headgear strap or attached to a hard cap. Welders need to remember that welding helmets and hoods are secondary protection that must be worn with primary eye protection.
Lenses. Welding lenses are available in passive and automatic darkening styles.
Passive lenses, which are made of plastic, polycarbonate, or less commonly glass, are generally available in 2- by 4.25-inch and 4.5- by 5.25-in. dimensions, or windows. Shades range from No. 3 (lightest) to No. 15 (darkest) and should match the current range and type of welding process. Clear inner and outer lenses protect and extend the life of the shaded lens and provide additional impact protection should the shaded lens take an impact. Outer lenses protect the tinted lens from welding spatter, extending the life. Inner lenses protect the welder should the tinted glass lens shatter.
Autodarkening lenses are electronic and allow the welder to see the work area clearly until the welding operation begins. When the application begins, the lens automatically darkens itself, protecting the welder’s eyesight. The lenses are available in single shades, although they also come in adjustable shades, which is useful for welders who perform different types of welding.
Safety Glasses. Safety glasses are primary protection and must be worn behind welding helmets and hoods to protect the eyes. They should have side shields or wraparound lenses and meet the ANSI Z87 standard. Tinted safety glasses or goggles (shades 2, 3, and 5) can be worn in place of welding helmets only for light gas welding and cutting applications, but they still should be used with face shields for impact protection. Hotter forms of gas and all arc welding require a welding helmet or hood to protect against facial burns and impact.
Respiratory Protection. Underneath the welding helmet or face shield and glasses, the welder also should wear a welding respirator made from flame-retardant material to protect against particulates and fumes. Welders can check the respirator’s National Institute of Occupational Safety and Health (NIOSH) rating to make sure it meets the requirements.
The most common welding injuries are burns, yet wearing the proper PPE can easily prevent these injuries. Unfortunately, overconfidence may lead a welder to think he is immune to such injury, or he may choose not to use PPE because it is too expensive or the job is too small.
Other times welders underprotect themselves because they feel the PPE is too warm or restrictive to wear. Fortunately, welders now can wear under their PPE new garments made of lightweight materials that wick away sweat to stay comfortable. Initially made with athletes in mind, these new garments are now finding favor in industrial settings.
The bottom line is welders have many options in materials, FR traits, fabric weight, and accessories to suit up for the job. A one-size-fits-all uniform no longer applies. Welders can make the right choices for their own protection and safety.
Practical Welding Today® was created to fill a void in the industry for hands-on information, real-world applications, and down-to-earth advice for welders. No other welding magazine fills the need for this kind of practical information. Subscriptions are free to qualified welding professionals in North America.