Welding safety is a serious concern that requires a consistent and proactive approach. Hardly a week goes by without a newspaper somewhere in the US reporting on a fire caused by a stray welding spark. But maintaining a safety-conscious work site isn’t the only thing welder’s and safety managers should be concerned about.
The March, 2014, issue of the Welding Journal is highlighting the importance of welders’ personal safety and the ways that welders and safety managers can work together to develop better, safer personal protection equipment to help avoid accidents and injuries.
Here are four questions you should be asking yourself whenever you begin to weld, or observe someone weld:
1. What welding applications am I doing?
Different types of welding require different personal protection equipment to keep welders safe. Before starting a job, check to make sure that you have all the equipment you need and that the equipment is being used appropriately. If equipment isn’t being used appropriately, if someone isn’t always wearing their helmet for example, ask why. Is it because the helmet isn’t as comfortable as it should be? These kinds of questions can help provide feedback to equipment manufacturers so that they can develop better equipment for your needs.
2. What are the lighting conditions in my area?
Lighting conditions have a significant impact on choosing the right protection equipment for the job. This is especially true when it comes to selecting proper eyewear. You should be able to fully see what you’re welding at all times, without having to sacrifice your vision’s wellbeing. Plus, lighting conditions are important to optimizing safety in general.
3. Beyond physical environmental exposures, what else am I exposed to?
Not every personal danger a welder faces comes in the form of an obvious wound or accident. Take some time to consider other threats your work environment exposes you to. This way you’re ensuring that all areas of your personal safety are being considered and when making safety preparations. For example, working in environments with dangerous fumes, hazardous materials, or in confined spaces with limited ventilation require additional steps and equipment that must be utilized for welder protection
4. In what additional ways can I protect myself and those around me by using proper personal protection equipment?
Whether you’re beginning a weld, or observing a welder, this question ensures that you’re always considering how you’re using your own safety equipment, and watching out for those around you. You should always keep in mind what equipment you have available to you, its function, how you and other welders are using it, and how it can be improved. This empowers and holds welders accountable for identifying and addressing safety gaps in the workplace. This mindset also encourages better communication between welders and safety managers.
The goal of these questions is to encourage welders and safety managers to communicate and determine the root cause of safety gaps in welding practices, not just to identify them. The end product should be real solutions to problems with equipment. Let’s go back to the example of the uncomfortable helmet.
Early welding helmets provided limited vision and were heavy enough to cause injury after extended use. These problems caused welders to frequently and dangerously remove their helmets. By asking questions like the ones above and considering how safety equipment could be improved, real solutions that encouraged safety were developed; rather than ineffective reminders of the importance of safety. Over time, the design of the helmet has been altered to allow for wider peripheral vision, better auto-darkening technology, and a lighter weight that puts less strain on the neck. All of these improvements came about from welders and safety managers looking for real problems, and giving them real solutions.