Need a Reason for Selecting Appropriate Welding PPE?

Here's one: More than 365,000 individuals sustain welding-related eye injuries annually.

THE welding industry is rated number one among all industries for the highest number of eye injuries. Based on a Prevent Blindness America report (www.preventblindness.org), eye injuries accounted for approximately 15 percent of total injuries and accounted for more than three times the number reported in the construction industry. According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, more than 365,000 individuals become victims of eye injuries that are related to welding activities, at an estimated cost to employers of more than $467 million annually.

This article will address recommended personal protective equipment, OSHA guidelines, and ANSI standards for protective eyewear and apparel for the welding industry. After a quick review of the most common types of welding and welding-related activities, we will examine protective eyewear and apparel for the industry.

Welding is uniting two or more pieces of metal by using heat or, sometimes, pressure. Types of welding:

  • Gas welding uses a combination of electric arc and gas to fuse metal surfaces together. For example, MIG (Metal Inert Gas) or TIG (Tungsten Inert Gas) welding is common for more detailed work. Both use an inert gas such as argon or carbon dioxide, along with a consumable metal rod or wire to complete the weld.
  • Arc welding uses an electric arc to heat, melt, and mix molten deposits of the coated electrode to create the metal bond.

Other possible injury sources related to welding are encountered in oxygen and arc cutting, which are sometimes used to sever or remove metal in welding. Additionally, torch soldering and brazing are related activities required of welders.

All PPE assessments should begin with a hazard evaluation. The Occupational Safety & Health Administration supports that the first hazard assessment procedure be given to engineering controls to remove or reduce sources of any possible injuries. After this assessment is completed, remaining potential hazards and sources of injuries will need to be identified.

Many PPE manufacturers can be a source for surveys with specific questions to help in obtaining the necessary information for making the most appropriate recommendations for eye, hand, and body requirements.

Eyewear
Let's first examine protective eyewear considerations for welding. Perhaps the high number of welding-related eye injuries can be contributed to welding requirements that involve exposure to hot metal (molten) slag, vapors, fumes, flying particles, and infrared and ultraviolet radiation. ANSI defines optical radiation to include both UV and IR rays, which vary on the light spectrum in regard to their level of intensity (nanometer, nm). The opportunity for injuries is increased when welding at above "eye level" distances.

Welding environments require a combination of protective eyewear or goggles to be worn in combination with helmets to provide adequate protection. Torch soldering, brazing, and cutting activities may require only protective eyewear or goggles. Maximum orbital seal is essential to protect the eyes from harmful optical radiation. Dielectric (no metal parts) frames are necessary for welders near electrical systems to avoid possible arc flash burns.

Because UV and IR rays are not visible, exposure can go undetected. Overexposure to harmful optical radiation occurs within seconds of looking directly at a welding arc without eye protection. Welder's flash and "arc eye" are common industry names for the condition medically named Photokeratitis.

As a general rule, select filter shades or lenses beginning with a shade too dark to see the welding zone. Then evaluate a lighter shade that provides adequate vision without going below the minimum protective shade. Most protective eyewear manufacturers offer 2.0, 3.0, and 5.0 filter shades, which protect against harmful optical radiation generated when working with molten metal, cutting, soldering, and brazing. A filter shade 2.0 lens allows 29-43 percent of light to be transmitted, filter shade 3.0 lenses allow 8.5-18 percent of light to be transmitted, and filter shade 5.0 lenses allow 1.8-3.6 percent of light to be transmitted. These shades are available in protective eyewear, goggles, and welding helmets.

Remember that welding helmets are secondary protectors, so they should not be used without protective eyewear or goggles being worn underneath. Care needs to be given to the selection process to achieve the most comfortable fit and best orbital seal.

OSHA's 29 CFR 1910.252 lists minimum shade requirements for a variety of welding operations. Additionally, ANSI Z87.1-2003 addresses safety recommendations for protective eyewear.

Here is a general guide for filter shade recommendations:

Torch soldering

Shade 2

Torch brazing

Shade 3

Light cutting up to 1"

Shade 3

Medium cutting up to 6"

Shade 5

Heavy cutting more than 6"

Shade 5

Gas welding, light up to 1/8"

Shade 5

Gas welding, medium 1/8" to 1/2"

Shade 5

Arc welding

Shade 8-12


Welding helmets consist of traditional filter plates. Those sometimes referred to as "passive" provide 8.0, 9.0, 10.0 or greater filter shades for an extra level of protection. "Auto-darkening," or automatic light-sensing, lenses automatically adjust to correct levels of protection. This is an example of how technology has affected and improved safety in the welding industry. Auto-darkening lenses are available up to a 16 filter shade level of light protection.

Apparel
Protective apparel for the welding industry has experienced significant growth in the assortment of fabrics, durability, comfort, and performance capabilities. Today's offerings include a diverse assortment of flame-resistant (FR) materials in different fabric weights, features, and colors, with some offering lifetime guarantees for FR properties when properly laundered.

Flame-resistant clothing will not support combustion or continue to burn once the source of ignition is removed. FR clothing must also insulate the wearer by dissipating heat transfer. Additionally, resistance to break-open forces generated by shock waves is required in electrical environments. Clothing options include shirts, coveralls, pants, capes, sleeves, jackets, aprons, and shoe covers. Most of these FR clothing options are available in disposable lightweight versions in assorted fabrics and in leather for heaviest-duty applications.

Today's clothing design elements include features that eliminate pockets to avoid catching sparks or hot metal; fabric-covered zippers and/or snaps to avoid flash, spark, or arcs; and dark clothing options to reduce reflection under faceshields.

Any work requiring electrical systems to be repaired or maintained is addressed by the National Fire Protection Association (NFPA) 70E standard. To help with the selection of the correct level of protection, this standard provides tables that assign a hazard/risk category (HRC) for each task. Another table endorses minimum arc thermal performance value (ATPV) that represents the thermal exposure from a second-degree burn in human tissue.

The selection process for the most appropriate protective clothing for various welding and cutting operations will vary with the task size, nature, and location of the work to be performed. By carefully examining which hazards are possible, new technologies will often provide greater comfort, which can improve employee acceptance and increase wearing of the proper PPE. Employee morale is boosted by providing a consistent image and identity of protective apparel.

Hand Protection
Hand protection represents one of the largest sales-generating areas of protective apparel in the welding industry. Temperatures and weight of materials handled are key criteria to identify. According to ANSI Z491-88, clothing shall provide sufficient coverage and be made of suitable material to minimize skin burns caused by sparks, spatter, and radiation. This standard also requires all welders and cutters to wear flame-resistant hand protection, such as all-leather welding gloves. Various types of leather, patterns, and lining provide options to target the specific welding and protection level.

Standards Help to Fill the Need
Just as technology has driven much of progression in protective apparel and protective eyewear offerings, several standards have raised the bar for welding protection. As safety professionals, we need to recognize our responsibility to the welding industry as one of the largest markets needing to reduce injuries and provide greater safety PPE.

Consider these standards for additional support:

OHSA 29 CFR 1910.252 and 29 CFR 1910.269
ASTM F1506
NFPA 70E

This article appeared in the September 2006 issue of Occupational Health & Safety.

This article originally appeared in the September 2006 issue of Occupational Health & Safety.

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