July 16, 2012
Welders are exposed to a number of hazards in the shop every day. Because of the inherent dangers that a welding environment can pose, it’s important that you, the welder, in conjunction with shop management, exercise a commitment to personal protection at all times. Carelessness can lead to preventable injury, costing you time away from work or much worse. Ask yourself these three questions to make sure safety is a priority for you and in your workplace.
Welders are exposed to a number of hazards in the shop every day, including extremely hot materials; intense light created by the arc; sparks; spatter; radiation—infrared, ultraviolet and blue light—slag; fumes and gases; and even electric shock that can result in burns, flash, and strain. Surprisingly, welding, cutting, and brazing result in more than four deaths per thousand workers over a working lifetime.1 Work-related injuries are also higher in welding than in other occupations,2 according to the U.S. Department of Labor’s Bureau of Labor Statistics, which points to welding torches as the source of more than 1,200 eye injuries per year.3
Because of the inherent dangers that a welding environment holds, it’s important that you, the welder, in conjunction with shop management, exercise a commitment to personal protection at all times. Carelessness can lead to preventable injury, costing you time away from work or much worse.
Here are three questions you should ask yourself to make sure that you and your company are making safe welding a priority.
Embracing a safety culture begins at the top. When management outwardly embraces safety as a key component of the business, it empowers you, the welder, to do the same. Traditionally, front-office leaders are removed from the process of identifying and addressing safety hazards required for a safe workplace. However, an engaged leadership can make safety a core value.
It is believed that when workers feel better, they perform better. Employee-centric programs that hold everyone at the site accountable for practicing safety on the job can lead to fewer injuries and more work efficiencies. The average age of a welder is late 50s. Because this is a career-long occupation, organizations must continually motivate welders to practice safe welding to prevent accidents and injuries.
Personal protective equipment (PPE) is crucial to any welding job—most tasks simply could not be completed without it. Yet it’s important to understand that wearing the right PPE not only helps prevent injury, but can also affect production efficiency. If you feel that your PPE is uncomfortable or that it slows you down, you’ll be more resistant to wearing it. As a welder, you take pride in your craft, so it’s critical to have PPE that minimizes physical impact and contributes to efficiency and, ultimately, productivity within your job. Welding is a very sensory-driven occupation; you rely on your sense of touch, sight, and sound to ensure that you are achieving that desired weld. PPE should not deter you, but instead improve upon the way you are able to do your job.
Many PPE products are available that keep you safe and comfortable without interfering with the job. Research shows that autodarkening (ADF) helmets also offer productivity gains and are comfortable to wear because they eliminate the lifting and nodding motion that is necessary with passive helmets. Furthermore, even if the batteries go dead in an ADF helmet or it is in the off state, you still are protected from the UV and infrared radiation produced by the welding process, as long as the helmet is in the down position.
Look for headgear with multiple adjustment points that allow you to create the most comfortable position for your welding task, while maintaining a good field of vision. Depending on the specific work task, you’ll need the appropriate eye and face protection, which may include safety glasses, goggles, welding helmets, curtains, or a combination. It is important to make sure eye protection devices are not damaged or missing parts, and be certain they fit properly and comfortably. Above all, keep eye and face protectors in place whenever the hazards are present.
While head and eye protection is critical in any welding job, it’s important to remember the rest of the body.
Additionally, flame-retardant (FR) clothing is a good alternative to leather, and a new trend is the combination of both materials aimed to make the garments more comfortable by reducing the weight while putting the leather protection where it is most needed.
In general, lean is the practice of reducing waste while sustaining or maximizing quality output. Born out of the auto industry, lean processes can be easily applied to almost any job. Incorporating simple lean methods into your work environment can help you become more efficient and productive from both an operational and safety standpoint.
• Reduce waste in motion. Set up your station in the most efficient way possible. A practical and ergonomically friendly way to set up the workstation is in triangle form. The triangle shape will help put everything you need within arm’s length, reducing both strain from reaching for tools and unproductive time looking for things that aren’t within an arm’s length.
Start by positioning the welding machine at the top of the triangle. Next, position your workstation at the bottom right or left point. Use the opposite side to store tools and accessories such as electrodes, hammer, wire brush, light, file, and antispatter spray, making them easy to reach. The triangle formation will help you navigate around cords, reducing trip hazards.
• Reduce waste in overprocessing. According to a study4 that compares the welder’s productivity wearing a passive helmet or an ADF helmet, 3 percent of an average welder’s day is spent lifting and nodding his welding helmet. ADF helmets may increase your productivity by eliminating the time it takes to lift and nod the helmet before and after each weld. This single elimination of waste will put an estimated $500 per year per welder back in the company’s pocket.
• Reduce defects. Minimizing weld defects saves time and material. An ADF helmet can help you become more accurate because it allows you to always see what you are doing and start in exactly the right spot.
1. Occupational Safety & Health Administration, “Welding, Cutting and Brazing,” www.osha.gov/SLTC/welding cuttingbrazing/
2. “Metal and Plastic Machine Workers,” Occupational Outlook Handbook, 2012-13 U.S. Department of Labor, Bureau of Labor Statistics, www.bls.gov/ooh/production/metal-and-plastic-machine-workers.htm
3. BLS, www.bls.gov/opub/cwc/tables/sh20040624ar01t9.htm
4. Cerita D. Bethea, Rick Zepp, Sandy Erreger, Martha Tate, Audra Wright, “Productivity Claim for Welders Using an Auto Darkening Filter (ADF) Helmet vs. Passive Helmet” (Research Summary), 7/29/2010.
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