According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, welding and cutting account for nearly 30% of all injuries in the manufacturing industry, making it one of the most dangerous professions. Seeing these stats made me wonder what makes welding such a high-risk job.
Welding is a high-risk profession because it involves extreme heat, high voltage electricity, and dangerous gases. Not only are welders risking life and limb by handling working with these hazardous materials, but there are also invisible risks.
At the same time, welding is one of the most common occupations in the industrial sector, and even with risk control measures, many workplace accidents still occur. It is essential to be aware of the risks before becoming a welder. Here are seven reasons why welding is a high-risk job.
1. Welders are exposed to dangerous fumes and gases,
Welders are constantly exposed to dangerous fumes and gases. It is no surprise that overexposure to welding fumes and gases can be harmful to operators’ health. Welding smoke contains potentially harmful complex metal oxide compounds such as manganese, hydrogen fluoride, nitrogen oxide.
Inhaling these fumes is one of the most severe hazards for welders because these welding fumes contain substances that in the long-term cause illness. Many of the symptoms and diseases that welding fumes can cause only manifest when welders are exposed to them for an extended period.
It is, therefore, imperative that you protect yourself against welding fumes by wearing the appropriate personal protective equipment (PPE), even if you feel you are not being affected. Not all dangerous welding fumes are noticeable until it’s too late.
Serious illnesses related to exposure to various types of welding fumes include MFF, lung cancer, asthma, ulcerations in the nostrils, skin ulcers (called “chronic ulcers”), allergies, allergic contact dermatitis, fertility, and reproduction problems.
2. Exposure to high temperatures
Welders often work with extreme temperatures, which can lead to health problems. The human body has a system for maintaining its temperature. It tries really hard not to let that go too high or low—but we’re talking about welders working in extreme temperatures with heavy protective clothing.
When welding in high temperatures, the body produces excessive heat and uses these regulatory mechanisms to lose it to keep its body temperature constant.
Risks increase with high humidity, which decreases the cooling effect of sweating, and with prolonged physical exertion, increases the amount of heat produced by the muscles.
Welders that work in extreme heat can develop increased irritability, feebleness, depression, anxiety, and inability to concentrate. In the most severe cases, physical changes such as dehydration, rash (purple blisters on the affected area of the skin), and cramps (spasms and pain in the muscles of the abdomen and extremities) can occur.
3. Welders may be injured or killed by electrocution
There is a high risk of electric shock while welding. It is one of the most severe hazards faced by a welder. It can lead to serious injury and even death, either from the shock itself or a possible fall caused by the reaction to the shock.
An electric shock occurs when welders touch two metal objects with a voltage between them, inserting themselves into the electrical circuit. The higher the voltage, the greater the current and therefore the greater the risk of electric shock resulting in injury or death.
A primary voltage shock–even more severe–can occur when the welder electrically touches “hot” parts within the electrical distribution system to which it is connected. This action can lead to a 230 or 460-volt shock.
The most common type of electrical shock is secondary voltage shock from an arc welding circuit, which ranges from 20 to 100 volts. Keep in mind that even a shock of 50 volts or fewer can be enough to injure or kill an operator, depending on the conditions.
When not in use but still on, most welding equipment has a voltage ranging from 20 to 100 volts in the welding circuit, and voltages inside the welding equipment can range from 120 volts to over 575 volts, which also poses a risk of electric shock.
4. Welders are at risk for burns from the sparks and flames
Welders can be seriously injured if they come into contact with hot metal. Burns are usually caused by splashes, i.e., splashes of molten metal that, when touching the skin, can cause severe burns. If it reaches the eyes, it can be even more dangerous, in which case the risk is to go blind.
Welders have a high risk of burns due to using hot objects/substances and the emitted UV radiation. It can cause various pathological effects, such as burns, skin pigmentation changes, immunological changes, and neoplasms.
Excessive exposure is more harmful to the eyes and skin, where it causes several changes. UV radiation can cause everything from erythema (“sunburn”) to an increased incidence of skin cancer.
5. Welders are exposed to hazardous working environments:
Welders are subjected to many physical, biological, and chemical risks, which are enhanced when working in a hazardous environment. They may have to work in dangerous locations, such as on bridges or near traffic.
Welders are responsible for bonding iron and steel on buildings, bridges, and roads. Their work often consists of climbing up on large structures and using equipment to cut, bend, and weld heavy metal. Falls are one of the most common fatal occupational accidents in structural ironwork.
While working on bridges or in high altitudes or near traffic, welders may face furious winds or dust, which can cause them to lose their balance or disrupt their ability to concentrate, resulting in an accident. The wires, sparks, and other mechanical gear can become a potential risk for the welder.
Welders also work in the oil fields to assist in the setup, maintenance, and operation of derricks and equipment used to extract oil and gas and mine for materials. Pipeline welders construct and maintain pipelines that transport oil, sometimes over rough terrain and in harsh conditions.
In addition, working in such places with heavy gear can make it a tiresome job. Then, there are situations where a welder has to work in a confined space, such as tanks, pipes, and pits. Inert gases and some chemical responses can diminish or even substitute the amount of oxygen in these places.
Working in a hazardous environment can become challenging if you are not competent to adhere to the safety measures. But to work in complex and unsafe conditions, you must follow the safety guidelines for your job. I recommend having a safety checklist for each welding project.
6. Welding is a physically demanding
The welder’s job can be physically demanding and cause back injuries, carpal tunnel syndrome, and other health issues. Static and dynamic physical loads during welding cause an overload of the body’s nervous and musculoskeletal systems.
Static loads depend on the mass of the welding tool (electrode holder, semi-automatic hose holder), the flexibility of hoses and wires, duration of continuous work, and working posture (standing, sitting, half-sitting, kneeling, lying on the back).
The most significant physical effect is felt when performing welding work while half-sitting and standing when welding in the ceiling position or lying on your back in hard-to-reach places. Incorrect posture causes muscle imbalance in the spine by overloading joints and intervertebral discs in the long term.
Welders are often asked to work in confined spaces for weeks or months to complete a project. I knew a welder that worked in the shipping building industry. He told me that it was common for him to work in a cramped position for eight hours a day.
Dynamic load is associated with performing heavy auxiliary work: delivery of workpieces, welding materials, lifting, and transport devices, turning of welded units to the job site. Such loads cause fatigue of welders and back pain/back injuries.
The risk is of developing Repetitive Strain Injuries (RSI), or Work-Related Musculoskeletal Disorders (WRMD) is greater in welding. These include, for example, tendonitis, bursitis, epicondylitis, carpal tunnel syndrome, trigger finger, ruptured rotator cuff tendons–these are some of the complicated names of diseases that a welder is always prone to develop.
7. Welding can cause blindness.
While welding is a safe process when done correctly, there are some risks associated with it. In this blog post, we’ll discuss some of the dangers of welding, including the risk of blindness and hearing impairment.
If you are a welder, be sure to take precautions to protect your eyes and ears, it’s essential for your long-term well-being. Welding can cause blindness and impair hearing. Welders should always wear the appropriate safety gear, including goggles and earplugs.
When welding, the spark creates an intense light that could damage your retina when looked at without a welding shield. You can get welders flash, which is temporary blindness that goes away after some time. However, prolonged exposure to the welding spark can cause permanent blindness. If you experience any blindness, you should see a doctor.
When you think about the risks of welding, it’s easy to see why this profession is considered high-risk. Welders are constantly exposed to extreme temperatures and harmful substances that can have severe consequences on their health.
They work in a dangerous environment where they’re at risk for burns, injuries from metal shavings or sparks, and even death due to electrocution if they don’t take proper precautions. With so many hazards surrounding them all day long, welders need protective gear and training to stay safe.
Although welding is a high-risk job, it’s not all bad. There are certain safety precautions that you can take to protect yourself from many of these risks. Workers can mitigate dangers by wearing personal protective gear and through proper training.
Our seven reasons aren’t an exclusive list – there are other dangers out there – but instead hit on the most prevalent risk for those who weld.