What to Look for When Buying Welding Protective Gear

Welding is the process of joining metals by melting the parts and then using a filler to form a joint. It can be done using different energy sources, from a gas flame or electric arc to a laser or ultrasound. Since it makes use of high temperatures and volatile substances, welding is an inherently dangerous activity. With the use of the proper protective gear and safety procedures, welders can complete their tasks in perfect safety. However, it is important to select gear that will provide adequate protection for each job, taking into account the different kinds of welding that may be done. Welders may need protection for the eyes, face, hands, and chest. In addition to protecting the skin from sparks and flying metal, welders may also need to prevent themselves from inhaling harmful toxins. Welders should know the types of protective gear available in order to purchase the necessary pieces for the type of welding they do most often.

Overview of Welding Protective Gear

The high temperatures and flaming debris associated with welding mean that welders must protect their upper bodies, arms, hands, and faces. To this end, basic welding protective gear (regardless of the type of welding) consists of heavy leather gloves, protective long-sleeve jackets, and heavy leather welding aprons. In addition, welding produces high concentrations of ultraviolet light, which can inflame the retinas and burn the corneas. To prevent these conditions, collectively called arc eye or flash burn, welders wear protective goggles or masks with UV-filtering face plates in addition to the other protective gear.

In addition to protecting the welder, care needs to be taken to protect others from exposure to UV radiation. Often, the welding area is shrouded with translucent welding curtains made from polyvinyl chloride (PVC) plastic film, which helps dissipate the UV light from the welding arc. However, it is important to note that PVC cannot replace filter glass in welding goggles or a welding mask.

Body Protection During Welding

As stated above, welders need to take care to protect their bodies from the intense heat and sparks caused by welding. The most important factor that shoppers need to take into account when purchasing protective clothing is the article's heat rating. There is no point spending money on an article of clothing if it cannot stand up to the heat it will encounter during welding jobs. The most common material used for welding gear is heavy leather, which provides a good balance between protection, weight, and cost.

Hand Protection

Welders need to take special care to protect their hands from the heat and sparks that occur during welding. It is important to make sure that there are no holes or defects in the welding gloves, either large holes or small seam splits. Regardless of the size of the hole, if a spark slips through it, the burn will be serious. To help prevent splits, many of the better gloves are sewn with Kevlar thread, which is almost unbreakable. In addition to buying quality gloves, welders should consider replacing their gloves every two to three years in order to provide the best protection possible.

Chest and Body Protection

In addition to hand protection, welders need to wear chest and body protection in order to further reduce the chances of burns and other injuries. All welders wear long-sleeved jackets of a heavy material, usually leather, in order to protect their arms. Many also use a heavy leather apron to provide further protection. Like gloves, body protection needs to possess a high enough heat rating to protect users from the heat of welding.
Most welding jackets and aprons are sewn together with Kevlar thread, which provides a lightweight and strong attachment between the various pieces of fabric. In addition to providing protection, aprons also offer welders several pockets to keep necessary welding accessories easily accessible.

Eye and Face Protection for Welders

In addition to protecting their bodies from heat and sparks, welders also need to protect their faces from those same hazards while also keeping the high concentrations of ultraviolet and infrared light from damaging their eyes. Failure to do so can cause a condition caused photokeratitis, or "arc eye," which is something like a severe sunburn to the eye's cornea and conjunctiva.

Eye Protection

Of all the body parts exposed to the welding process, the eyes are perhaps the most sensitive, which means that proper care must be taken to ensure that they are not damaged. The easiest way for welders to protect their eyes is the use of welding goggles. These goggles wrap around the sides and tops of the eyes to protect users from sparks and debris.

They also incorporate lenses of filter glass in order to reduce the amount of damaging wavelengths that reach the eyes. It is important, however, to purchase goggles with the right lenses for a specific job; gas welding, for instance, generates different wavelengths than arc welding, and each type of welding requires a different filter.

Face Protection

Welding goggles are considered primary protection, as they are kept on during the entire process. Welders should also consider using a facemask. It can provide significantly more protection than goggles alone, especially if the mask incorporates magnifiers and self-darkening filter glass. Every mask has a window with a lens shade that allows the welder to see what he or she is working on, but some higher-end models provide additional features.

Instead of smoked filter glass, some high-end welding masks feature an electronic LCD shutter that automatically darkens when exposed to a welding arc, which means welders do not have to lift up the mask when the welding is done or pull the mask down over the face when welding begins. Welders can keep the mask down at all times and function normally and enjoy full protection from UV and IR radiation. However, these electronic devices can significantly raise the price of a welding mask. In addition to LCD shutters, some masks come with built-in magnifiers that allow welders to have a detailed view of their work while still remaining a safe distance from the weld.

Additional Protective Devices

In addition to protecting users' bodies and faces, welding gear also needs to protect the respiratory system of the welder as well as anyone who may be near the welding site. Many kinds of welding generate potentially toxic fumes, which come from a variety of sources, though they are mainly vaporized metals. Different materials can produce different fumes. For instance, stainless steel can produce fumes containing chromium and nickel, while galvanized or plated metals can produce fumes with cadmium, zinc oxide, or lead. In addition, the welding process itself creates waste gases, including carbon monoxide, nitrogen dioxide, and ozone, all of which can be toxic if inhaled.

Personal Protective Gear

Welders have several options to help reduce their exposure to toxic gases. Proper ventilation is the most effective way to reduce exposure. If working in a large room or outdoors, natural ventilation, aided by a fan or a draft, may be enough. In confined spaces, though, additional ventilation equipment will be necessary. Smoke extractors, also known as hoods or "elephant trunks," are often used in conjunction with exhaust fans to remove fumes from the work area.

In extremely confined situations, it may be necessary for welders to utilize personal respirators. These machines are available in a number of different styles, including both powered and passive models. Passive respirators rely on the user's breathing to supply a flow of air through the filters, while powered models provide a constant flow of clean air to the user. Though they are more expensive, powered respirators often prove to be a better choice for welders, as many models feature facemasks with built-in welding masks. Passive respirators are worn under a welding mask and may potentially interfere with the mask's proper use.

Protection for Other Workers

Other people working in the same area as welders may also potentially be exposed to many of the same risks. Particularly, ultraviolet light emissions and exposure to harmful vapors are two of the main risks faced by other workers. Fortunately, there are simple steps that can be taken to reduce these dangers. Workplaces can limit exposure to harmful wavelengths of light by utilizing welding curtains, while proper ventilation can help reduce the concentration of dangerous vapors.

Purchasing Welding Protective Gear

As standard safety equipment, welding protective gear can be purchased at a number of places. Most equipment manufacturers offer a catalog of products, which can be found either in print or online. A number of larger brick-and-mortar stores stock some of the more common brands and types of protective equipment, but they only carry products that they are able to sell quickly. Buyers can find a wide variety of gear at competitive prices at Sparcweld.com.

Conclusion

Though welding has the potential to be dangerous, the proper use of protective gear and equipment can significantly reduce this risk. Welding jackets, aprons, and gloves help reduce the risk of skin damage and burns, while welding goggles and masks protect against face burns and eye damage from ultraviolet rays. In addition, proper ventilation and the use of welding curtains can protect welders and other workers from exposure to harmful gases and light wavelengths. With a variety of equipment and supplies available, welders can pursue their craft in safety.