by Jason Becker
We have all heard the rumors surrounding welding. It’s dark, dirty, and dangerous. That may have been the case 20 years ago but the welding industry as a whole has come a long way since its inception.
I have been in welding shops that are cleaner than some of the kitchens in high end restaurants, illuminated better than most hospitals and safer than most office spaces. The welding industry is not what it once was. The new welder can be just as safe as the average bank manager. It’s all about being educated, trained and using the correct PPE. During my time as a welding educator we have had ZERO loss time incidents in any of my classes. And we worked in some tight spaces with a lot of bodies. At one point (against my recommendation) I had 25 students in a 30ft x 40’ lab with torches burning, saws cutting, ironworkers sheering, grinders grinding and welding machines welding.
How? How did we avoid injury in such a tight space with that many bodies and that much equipment running at the same time? It's simple. Prior to entering the lab, the students were trained with the basics of welding safety. After the first few days of welding safety we covered practical applications of safety. Once the students understood safety and how to identify and eliminate potential hazards, we moved on to proper care, inspection and use of power tools. Then to other shop equipment. The students would police each other and help to mitigate accidents through proper training. Each student was a safety officer. Sure, we had a couple incidents that required a small band aid but nothing more than that.
Dressing for the Job you Want, Not the Job you Have
Before we talk about welding safety we have to dress the part. When determining how to dress properly I star from the ground up. I recommend Steel Toe work boots to all my students. 8” boots are higher were required in order for the students to participate. Safety shoes were not acceptable. They may have had a steel toe, but most contained synthetic fibers in them. Leather only. Moving up, you should be wearing denim, wool or other natural fiber pants. Synthetic fibers are flammable and don’t take much to ignite them. A stray spark can cause an injury pretty fast. Additionally, the pant legs should go over the boots. Anyone who has ever welded with their pant legs in their boots has only done it once I assure you. A spark on the inside of the boot will humble you really quick. The same applies to the shirt. Natural fibers only and 4” sleeves are required. Longer shirts should be tucked in to the waistline of the pants. Next up, safety glasses. These are required to be on your face before you walk into the lab and do not come off until you exit the lab.
Welding Specific Safety
Now that we are dressing the part, it’s time to start acting like it. Everyone in the welding industry should read the American National Standards Institute (ANSI) Z49.1, Safety in Welding, Cutting, and Allied Processes. It’s a short read at only 70 pages but it covers everything you need to know to keep yourself and your fellow co-workers safe and out of harms way. My students were required to read this book the first week of class and we would discuss certain sections each day. After all, safety is the first priority of each task.