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Is Welding Dangerous?

By S. Mithra
Updated May 17, 2024
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Compared to other industrial jobs, welding is fairly dangerous. The occupational and health hazards of this job can be avoided with proper equipment, safe materials, and a few common sense measures. Risks associated with welding include asphyxiation due to dangerous inhalants, skin and eye damage due to ultraviolet light, electrical or chemical fires, and long-term negative effects from fumes.

Most people think that sparks and arcs are the most dangerous aspects of welding because they call attention to themselves, but they are only one risk. The brightness of the sparks, with their strong UV light, can cause cancer in unprotected eyes and skin. Yet there is a wide range of equipment, such as auto-darkening helmets and thick gloves, to reduce exposure. Also, sparks are not usually hot, yet general precautions should be taken to keep wood or other combustible material out of the range of the welder's arc. Setting heated metal on a flammable surface is more likely to start a fire.

The leading cause of health problems in welders relates to carcinogenic or toxic chemicals. These chemicals might be in a sealant or coating over the metal surfaces to be welded. Extreme heat releases molecules into the air, where they are easily inhaled.

Certain substances might also be embedded in the material itself, like lead, cadmium, manganese, chromium, or nickel in metals like stainless steel, copper, or zinc. These metals should only be welded with extreme caution. Make sure you know exactly what they contain and work in an area with a lot of air circulation. Symptoms from inhalation can range from a temporary flu-like sickness to major damage to lungs, liver, and other organs. For instance, manganism from manganese exposure is related to Parkinson's Disease.

Even when you are careful with regard to sealants and varieties of metals, the process of welding always produces other dangerous gases. For instance, a variation of oxygen called ozone is created with every arc. Ozone exists naturally in the atmosphere, but large concentrations of ozone displace oxygen. If you work in an enclosed space, ordinarily safe gases can become too concentrated and cause edema, filling your lungs with water. Ozone, nitrogen oxide, and carbon dioxide build up, making you pass out, hit your head, or suffer brain damage.

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Discussion Comments

By anon994220 — On Jan 24, 2016

My father welded for years with contacts, with never any issues. The only thing I could see is if you were being stupid and grinding with no safety goggles and a spark flew in your eye. So yes, if you use common sense and protect yourself and are aware of your surroundings, you will be fine.

By anon166694 — On Apr 09, 2011

lightning88: the milk after welding galvanized steel is correct. i have used this remedy myself many times and it works.

By rallenwriter — On Jul 23, 2010

There's also a lot of talk about how dangerous it is to wear contacts while welding.

The story goes that if you wear contacts while welding the heat will melt them to your eyes and blind you.

Some people swear it's true, but most ophthalmologists, long-term welders, and the folks at Snopes say that it's just a legend.

Of course welders, wearing contacts or no, should take appropriate precautions, but it seems like the contact thing is just talk.

By lightning88 — On Jul 23, 2010

I've heard that one thing you can do to counteract the effects of the gases that can come off of things like galvanized steel or zinc is to drink some milk when you get through.

I don't know if it works, because I've never tried it myself, but I thought that sounded really interesting.

The guy who told me said that it kept him from getting that "flu" feeling -- the chills, aches, etc. that can come after welding stuff like that.

By CopperPipe — On Jul 23, 2010

Welding is like anything -- if you do something stupid, of course you can get hurt.

However, if you are properly trained in using welding machines, use the right equipment and keep yourself well-ventilated, and just use some common sense, welding is about as safe as anything else.

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