If we had to choose a skill that we particularly envy or a product that always impresses us, it would have to be great welding. The ability to fabricate metal, even to the point of combining two pieces into one, is as practical as it is strong. Just a quick perusal of online publications quickly make it clear that great welding requires both a wide breadth of knowledge and technical skill. That expertise includes safety procedures and equipment, as it does in any trade. But the peculiar nature of welding means that preventing injury to both the welder and others in the welding area might not be intuitive. So before we fire up our Lincoln Electric Power MIG 210 MP Welder, let’s go through our Welding Safety Equipment Checklist.
For the Welder – the Person, Not the Machine
“Welders make more money than philosophers. We need more welders and less philosophers.” – Marco Rubio
The trades, in general, need more people, and preferably, more good people. Welding is an area where there’s much money to be made. It’s a dirty and hot job, but it’s good work that pays even better. Everyone should try it, at least once. Also, you’ll get to join the welder fraternity, if they decide to let you in. Furthermore, you’ll get to partake in sayings like: “We can weld anything except a broken heart and the crack of dawn.”
Related Review: Lincoln 210 PowerMIG Welder
Ventilation and Respirators
Welding produces a lot of heat, of course, but in some cases, it produces dangerous fumes from zinc, aluminum, and magnesium oxides. Anyone breathing in these fumes is susceptible to the flu-like metal fume fever. Fumes result from flux wire, stick welding, and galvanized steel particularly, but that’s not an exhaustive list. Just keep in mind that ventilation is essential, respirators may be critical, and you must understand what the byproducts of your welds will be before you light the torch.
There’s also more to the story than just slapping on any face filter or respirator. Depending on the type of material you’re welding, proximity to the weld, and effectiveness of the ventilation, these all will help determine what type of respirator is needed. You may be fine with a simple filtering facepiece, or you may need a Powered Air Purifying Respirator (PAPR) with a hood and headpiece. Use some common sense, and consult a Pro if you’re unsure of your environment.
Sleeves or Half Leathers
Now for the really stylish welding apparel. It won’t take the cascade of sparks too long to burn holes in cotton clothing. At best, it’ll leave you looking a little like you’re late for the ‘90s alternative music scene. Leather withstands the sparks but it’ll quickly make you overheat. So it’s not unusual to see a welder wearing leather sleeves – called cape sleeves or half leathers – to protect the areas most likely hit by sparks while minimizing body temperature. Just remember that the torch’s ultraviolet light could give any exposed skin the equivalent of a sunburn. Cotton clothing is better than nothing, but synthetic materials like rayon or polyester can melt into your skin. So don’t weld in your leisure suit, and leave your ’80’s parachute pants at home.
Welders wear an apron for the same reason they wear cape sleeves. Aprons are particularly helpful if you’re sitting while you weld, as hot metal can hit your chest and fall into your lap. Without one, you’ll find metal in your shirt and pants pockets – if the sparks haven’t burned your clothes off, that is. Make sure you wear a decent shirt under the apron too. That no-shirt under the apron look is really overrated.
Mask with Auto-Darkening Lens
A welding torch emits such bright ultraviolet light that it can burn your eyeballs. In case you skimmed over that last sentence, we’ll reiterate. BURN YOUR EYEBALLS. Without a mask, especially one with auto-darkening technology, your corneas would be damaged as if you’d stared at the sun…with binoculars. It’s called welder’s flash, arc eye, or simply flashing yourself – and that doesn’t mean dropping your towel in front of the mirror. Symptoms include bloodshot eyes, watery eyes, sensitivity, blurry vision, and other unfavorable stuff. Bystanders can also be flashed – more on protecting them in a moment.
Safety Glasses Underneath Mask
A welder often flips his or her mask up to inspect the work or perform other tasks – like grinding – when the torch isn’t lit. Just because the flashing danger isn’t present doesn’t mean your eyes are safe. It’s wise to wear some safety glasses – even dark ones in case you forget to flip the mask back down – underneath the mask. But don’t forget to flip the mask back down.
Hat or Bandanna
Welding masks don’t cover the top of a welder’s head, so you’ll want to wear a hat or bandanna under the mask straps. It’s especially important for overhead welding, but a good idea no matter the orientation. Plus welding bandannas are often colorful, cool works of art with flaming skulls, flags, or just about anything you can imagine. And, you can wear them out in public after work, because welders are freakin’ cool.
All protective equipment we’ve already mentioned applies, of course, to the hands. They are closest to the heat and light, after all. A good pair of leather welding gloves is essential. Some welders find it annoying to wear gloves while dialing in their machines, but you’ll be glad you did.
For the Welding Audience
Ventilation Part II – You and your coworkers are breathing the same air, so if your air is dangerously fumy, so is theirs. Good ventilation and possibly respiration for bystanders is critical.
Welding Curtains – As we mentioned, the bright ultraviolet light of the welding torch isn’t just dangerous for your eyes – it’s dangerous for anyone in sight. A welder could flash an unsuspecting passerby from an open garage door, shop door, or other work areas. Welding curtains prevent this danger by diffusing the arc glare and protecting everyone around you.
For Stuff Around the Welding
Combustibles – Welding creates hot sparks, so be sure there are no combustibles anywhere in the area.
Welding Blankets – Welding blankets cover everything we haven’t mentioned yet. It’s an inexpensive way to keep your environment safe and in good working order.
If you want to protect yourself, bystanders, and the stuff around you while welding, this list will go a long way to that end. If you’re a Pro and have welding tips, comment below!
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