Set your welding shop up for success when you purchase basic safety equipment for yourself and/or your employees. When you’re dealing with molten metal, protection from head to toe is critical.
Whether welding is your hobby or your livelihood, you want to have some essentials on hand when you’re setting up your workspace. In a market with so many options, you can spend every dime you have on equipment, and it’s easy to feel overwhelmed. However, priority goes to personal safety every time. Working with flames and metal at these temperatures is very dangerous, so get the appropriate safety gear before you purchase anything else.
Protect Your Eyes
The Occupational Safety and Health Agency (OSHA) has a specific standard related to protecting your eyes while on the job. Standard 29 CFR 1910.133 requires protection when workers are exposed to “eye or face hazards such as flying objects, molten metal, liquid chemicals, acids or caustic liquids, chemical gases or vapors, or potentially injurious light radiation.” Welding shops fall into this category. More importantly, protecting your eyes and face helps to avoid painful and sometimes permanent injury.
When you’re working with a grinding disk, you’ll see some sparks. Those bright flashes of light are actually tiny pieces of metal that can cause permanent damage if one hits you in the eye. Welding torches are the most common cause of flash burns to the eye because of the high levels of ultraviolet light involved. To avoid that kind of injury or disability, wear a face shield and safety glasses every time you fire up your tools.
You have many options when it comes to face shields. Always err on the side of overprotecting when you’re making your purchasing decisions.
- Side protection: If something is coming toward your face, human nature says you will try to turn away from it. Without side protection, your eyes, cheeks and the side of your head are vulnerable. Side shields are available to attach to most face shields.
- Goggles: For some work environments, goggles may be appropriate to wear with your face shield. They are usually detachable, so they are easily replaced when they get too scratched up.
- Headgear: Face shields are almost always attached to a helmet or hard hat. You can buy adapters for most face shields to connect them securely to whatever headgear your work area requires.
- Removable or lift-front: The choice between these two types of face shields usually comes down to personal preference. Removable components are more easily replaced when you change headgear or in case of damage. Some users prefer lift-front styles because they are more convenient to flip up and down while working.
- Materials: The most common materials are Lexan, polycarbonate and wire mesh. Most welders prefer Lexan or polycarbonate for the increased protection from impact.
- Safety Glasses: Even the best face shields can’t keep everything out. Vulnerabilities always exist around the sides and from under the bottom. That’s why safety experts strongly recommend pairing your face shield with a quality pair of safety glasses, especially if your work involves liquids, gases or tiny particles. Prescription safety lenses are available through your eyewear provider, or you can get off the rack, non-prescription versions. No matter what you choose, make sure that your glasses meet the latest ANSI standards.
Along with your safety glasses, your helmet protects your eyes, and the best ones do it without obstructing your view of your work. Two common types of welding helmets are passive shade and auto-darkening. The biggest difference between the two is the lens. In a passive shade helmet, the color of the glass stays the same and doesn’t lighten or get darker while you work. With an auto-darkening helmet, the glass starts off clear, darkens when you start your torch and then returns to clear when you finish. Each type has positives and negatives, and you’ll find passionate fans of both if you ask around.
- Passive Shade Helmets
Passive shade helmets are less expensive than the auto-darkening variety. When you need to replace a lens, the new part is cheaper as well and can be changed out quickly and easily. In terms of comfort, a passive shade helmet is lighter weight. It doesn’t need batteries, and it has no controls that have to be adjusted.
On the flip side of the coin, if you’re a new welder, you may have more mistakes with a passive shade helmet simply because you can’t see your work at the beginning of the task. Also, some users experience discomfort from the repetitive motion needed to secure the helmet in place. Finally, you’ll need to buy multiple lenses if you’re going to work in different environments.
- Auto-Darkening Helmets
Auto-darkening helmets require less motion because you don’t have to lift and replace them to see what you’re doing. You can even get one with side windows for maximum visibility. Less movement reduces the risk of repetitive motion injuries. Also, auto-darkening helmets are generally narrower, so if your workspace is tight, you may be able to move around more easily. UV and infrared protection are better with an auto-darkening helmet because of the semi-transparent nature of the lens.
Unfortunately, all the advantages come at a price, and an auto darkening helmet is significantly more expensive than the passive shade variety. They’re also slightly less accurate, optically. Unless your helmet has fully adjustable shades, you’ll be limited to just what the manufacturer offers. Finally, lenses for this type of helmet are more expensive and more fragile than passive glass.
Protect Your Hands
Handling hot metal in excess of 1,000 degrees calls for strong gloves to protect your hands and fingers. Many welders experience nerve damage in the hands as a result of these high temperatures. When you’re shopping for gloves, you can choose between thick and thin materials. The thicker gloves are usually the best choice for beginners since you can hold a hot piece of metal with them for a few seconds. However, it’s more cumbersome to work while you’re wearing them. If you’re doing TIG welding, precision is more important. A thinner material might be the better choice since it gives you greater control of your movements.
- Heavy-duty MIG welding gloves – These are designed to protect against heat and spatter. A quality pair will have heavy stitching, layers of insulation and flame-resistant material in its construction.
- Standard-duty MIG welding gloves – Most commonly, these are made from leather and have less insulation than the heavy-duty version. They may be lined or not, and they allow for greater dexterity than other types of gloves.
- TIG welding gloves – These gloves are usually not lined, and they’re made of softer materials. Designed to fit more snugly than other types, they are well-suited to the precision work that TIG welders do.
Protect Your Body
Jackets have been part of the personal protective equipment of welders for decades. How much protection you need largely depends on the work you’re doing. Consider how dirty the jacket is likely to get as well. Some types of cloth are more washable and durable than others.
- Light-weight: Cotton jackets made from a special kind of flame-resistant cloth are commonplace in welding shops. Sometimes the fabric is treated, while other manufacturers build the protection into the material itself.
- Leather: If your work calls for something stronger than cotton, leather is the choice for medium to heavy-duty shops. It’s by far the best choice for protection and durability. The only drawback is that it’s hot inside a leather jacket, especially in the welding environment. Some manufacturers now offer a jacket with leather over the most vulnerable areas and a lighter weight, more breathable cotton in other areas for cooler wear.
Aprons and Sleeves
For an additional layer of protection, you can wear a welder’s apron or leather sleeves on top of your jacket. An apron is also useful to protect your legs, which are not usually covered by a welding jacket. In a light duty environment, some welders wear a welder’s apron and leather sleeves over a flame-resistant shirt if a jacket is not available. This is not ideal, but it’s better than nothing.
Protect Your Feet
Most workplaces will have standards for footwear to protect your feet from injury. Boots made specifically for wear in welding shops are reinforced over the top of the foot to keep your laces from catching a spark and heavy objects from crushing your toes. Leather welding spats may be an option if you only weld occasionally. However, they only protect from heat and won’t defend against a tool or other heavy falling object, so they’re not a reliable option for daily use.
Safety Essentials for A Safe Welding Shop
From tools to machines to measuring instruments, you can write quite a long wish list of things you need to set up your welding shop. However, if you get injured and can’t do the work you love anymore, all that time, energy and money is wasted. Putting safety equipment at the top of the must-have list goes a long way toward giving you peace of mind and a safer place to do what you love.