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Suit up for welding safety and comfort with these tips

Wednesday, November 1, 2017 - 07:00
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Ideally, all the best practices shops adopt should intersect easily and make for a smooth-running operation. That just isn’t the case. Take efficiency and safety. In the pursuit of greater labor output and shorter cycle times, it’s way too easy for workers to set aside safety standards they feel are too burdensome, which can then set the stage for everything from repair mistakes and delays to serious injury.

This is particularly true with common, high-risk tasks such as welding. Welding is one of the most common chores performed at shops. It also requires strict attention to detail--even before the work is performed. These pre-work details are vitally significant since they’re the key to eliminating injuries, many of them serious, from the litany of dangers and hazards shop employees must deal with when welding, including:  intense lights, excessive noise, toxic fumes, flying debris and fire.

(Photo courtesy of ABRA) Safe, effective welding requires that employees first suit up in all necessary protective gear.

What are these pre-weld details? Simple—dressing appropriately for the job. Repairers must wear all the right protective gear, which means going well beyond a helmet and gloves.

Use the following tips to (1) select the best protective equipment and (2) ensure your workers are always properly suited for welding every time.

Dressing toe to head

When you’re preparing to weld, make sure you’re protected the same way you’d build a safe structure—from the ground up.

Shoes

There’s no substitute for non-slip, steel-toe shoes when working in a shop. Since you’re dealing with heath and flying particles, you need as much coverage as possible. Always go with boots that provide 6-8 inches of ankle protection. Make sure they’re leather since the high heat from welding can melt many synthetic materials. Also make sure they’re comfortable.  Welding sometimes means working in awkward or tiring positions. Comfortable shoes can reduce stress and therefore eliminate accidents caused by fatigue.

Pants

Any clothing should be made from heavy cotton, leather or wool since these materials won’t melt, unless you have access to synthetic materials that are specifically made to resist the heat produced during welding. Pants also need to be sufficiently long enough to pass over the tops of boots to keeps out sparks and metal fragments. Never tuck pants into boots since doing so opens up spaces for hot materials to fly into.

For the same reason, pants should never have cuffs. Cuffs provide landing spaces for red-hot materials and other debris that can burn through material or be carried into other areas of the shop where they can create fire hazards or contaminate vehicle finishes.

Shirt

Once again you need to stick to materials that won’t melt and can resist heat. Though this really should be obvious, long sleeves are absolutely necessary. Sleeves always need to be buttoned.

In warmer climates and shop environments, this level of coverage may not be comfortable, but it’s necessary to protect skin. Great options to use in these situations are leather sleeves and an apron along with extended gauntlet gloves.  A modified welding bib with long sleeves and open back over a cotton shirt can also suffice.

Shirts with pockets also should be avoided since flames and fragments can find their way into these spaces. Shops also should nix lighter colors and go with darks since those won’t reflect intense welding light under a welding helmet and into a worker’s eyes.

Both shirts and pants also need to be free of grease, solvents and other materials that can ignite.

Gloves

Stick with fire-resistant gloves designed specifically for welding and always go with the best available quality your business can afford. Top of the line gloves typically are constructed from high-grain leather.

(Photo courtesy of Miller Electric) Gloves must be specifically designed for welding. Always make sure they’re in good condition and free of holes. Allow workers to try on and pick out the gloves that work best for them.

Look too for gloves that provide the best combination of comfort and flexibility. Meeting this goal can mean investing in multiple types of gloves for different types of welding based on the level of heat. For example, TIG welding usually produces the least heat, so welders can opt for a more flexible, lighter glove. Keep in mind that gloves are not one-size-fits-all work articles. Always let your welders try them on before purchasing (more on this later). Always check the gloves are in good condition and free of any holes.

Hearing protection

This might be the single most overlooked area of personal protection for collision repairers. Shops can be noisy places, though they’re usually a far cry from the blaring environments welders often encounter in more industrial workplaces. For these reasons (and others), some shops can dismiss the need for hearing protection. That’s a huge mistake. Being exposed to even slightly elevated noises over extended periods can cause substantial hearing loss.

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