There are many things about the welding process that can be very hazardous to your eyes. Starting with the welding process itself, ultraviolet and infrared rays are emitted not just from the welding arc but also from the molten metal. And, both UV and IR are extremely hazardous to your eyes. However, what is more, likely to be more dangerous for a welder’s eyes is debris from the grinding, brushing or chipping process before or after the actual welding is done.
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Indirect UV and IR rays can damage your eyes as well. The worst eye burns I ever received was when I was welding at night with two other welders in the shop. We were welding in close proximity to each other with helmets that had fixed filters. (This was before the auto-darkening helmet was invented.) The direct and indirect flashes from the side and the rear really did a number on my eyes. Anyone who has burned their eyes welding knows how painful it can be.
In case you didn’t know, reflected light still carries UV rays.
When you burn your eyes welding, it is called Photokeratitis. Photokeratitis is basically sunburn of the cornea. While the damage is not permanent, the pain can be severe. It took two days and nights, and nights are the worst, for my eyes to get better.
How do ultraviolet and infrared rays harm the eyes?
As mentioned, Photokeratitis, while painful, is not permanent. However, if you received enough UV rays to burn your corneas, you just added another dose of UV rays to the total accumulation your eyes have received to date.
Just as our skin feels the burn after several hours in the sun, spending time under intense, unprotected exposure to UV radiation can cause a variety of short-term problems in our eyes. The short-term effects of UV eye damage may diminish, but the cumulative UV exposure can yellow both the lens and the cornea, making it more difficult to discern contrast in our vision.
What are some other eye problems caused by UV and IR rays?
Pterygium is another potential result of UV damage and is also known as “surfer’s eye.” It is an abnormal growth on the surface of the eye that is usually benign, most often originating in the corner near the nose. It can cause swelling and irritation as well as corneal problems that could affect vision. While the symptoms may be resolved with surgery, they may also re-grow later.
Cataracts are the most common cause of vision loss in people over 40. A cataract is defined as the progressive clouding of the lenses of the eyes. Left untreated they are ranked globally as a primary cause of reversible blindness. The World Health Organization (WHO) estimates that up to 20 percent of all cataract cases are attributable to UV radiation and are preventable. As many as three million surgeries to remove cataracts are performed in the U.S. annually. And according to Prevent Blindness America, more than 20 million Americans have cataracts.
Age-related macular degeneration (AMD), is another principal cause of vision loss and the leading cause of blindness in adults 60 and older. High UV exposure at a younger age has been significantly associated with early AMD. Studies suggest that exposure to UV rays early in life is a huge factor in developing AMD. UV radiation can induce photooxidative stress in the retina, and that can lead to AMD. Vision loss from AMD is irreversible. However, early detection and treatment can slow the loss.
Eye injuries account for one-quarter of all welding injuries, making them by far the most common injury for welders, according to research from the Liberty Mutual Research Institute for Safety. Those most at risk for welding-related eye injuries are workers in industries that produce industrial and commercial machinery, computer equipment, and fabricated metal products.
The best way to control eye injuries is also the most simple: proper selection and use of eye protection. Helmets alone do not offer enough protection. Welders should wear goggles or safety glasses with side shields that comply with ANSI Z87.1 under welding helmets and always wear goggles or other suitable eye protection when gas welding or oxygen cutting. Goggles provide better protection than safety glasses from impact, dust, and radiation hazards.
Unfortunately, workers don’t always wear goggles or safety glasses because of low perception of risk, poorly maintained lenses, discomfort, having to wear prescription lenses underneath, and vanity. It is important to stress to workers that welding-related eye injuries come from a number of sources, including:
- mechanical damage from being struck by flying particles and chipped slag;
- radiation and photochemical burns from ultraviolet radiation (UVR), infrared radiation, and intense blue light; and
- irritation and chemical burns from fumes and chemicals.
To help in reducing eye injuries, you should educate workers about all of the dangers they face and should implement an eye protection plan that outlines proper welding behaviour.
What are the possible damage risks?
All of the most common types of welding (shielded metal-arc or stick welding, gas metal-arc welding, and oxyacetylene welding) produce potentially harmful ultraviolet, infrared, and visible spectrum radiation. Damage from ultraviolet light can occur very quickly. Normally absorbed in the cornea and lens of the eye, ultraviolet radiation (UVR) often causes arc eye or arc flash, a very painful but seldom permanent injury that is characterized by eye swelling, tearing, and pain.
The most common form of eye injury from welding is a flash burn. Flash burns are essentially sunburns that form on the cornea of your eye rather than on your skin. The cornea is the outermost layer of the eye, located in front of the iris and pupil (the coloured ring and the black circle in the middle of your eye).
Common flash burn symptoms include:
- Mild to intense pain in your eyes
- Blurry vision
- Heightened light sensitivity
- Watering eyes
- Feeling as though something like a speck of dirt is stuck in your eye
- Eyes are bloodshot
- If you experience any of these symptoms and suspect that you have a flash burn, then there are some self-care steps that you can take to lessen the pain:
If you’re wearing contact lenses, remove them wearing sunglasses can help reduce pain (as it helps counteract bright lights). Close your eyes or wear a blindfold using moisturizing eye drops may help soothe the pain, over-the-counter painkillers are also useful. Symptoms may last for two days, or longer in rare cases. During this time, do not wear contacts and try to avoid exposing your eyes to further UV radiation.
If you are concerned about your vision, then seek out medical attention. An ophthalmologist (a doctor that specializes in eye care) can professionally assess the damage to your eyes and the most appropriate way to treat them.
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In addition to the methods of treatment that you can use at home, a doctor might prescribe:
- Antibiotic eye drops
- Eye patch
- Up to two days after you first notice symptoms, it is advisable to seek an evaluation from an ophthalmologist again. Most flash burns will heal within two days, but there is a possibility of complication from infection. In the event of infection, consult with your ophthalmologist for treatment options.
It’s common sense, but it bears mentioning that if you see spots or experiencing blurred vision, light sensitivity, or intense pain, you should find a friend or family member to drive you to the doctor rather than attempting to drive yourself.
How to treat welders injured thru flash?
However, there are some times where an injury is simply unavoidable. If you tend to weld often and for any reason can’t use any protection on your eyes, then you are eventually going to suffer from Welder’s Flash.
When this happens, there are a few things that you can do in order for the soreness and pain to go away.
Where to buy eye drops or dilating eye drops?
One of these things is using eye drops. These can be over the counter or prescription, and they work by lubricating the eye, which in turn helps reduce pain and inflammation. The prescription eye drops go a step further by dilating them and actually relaxing the eye muscles. This is considered the best eye drops for these kinds of injuries, but you need to consult with your doctor to prescribe them to you.
What are the possible home remedies for welders flash?
If you don’t want to use eye drops, you could always use home remedies that many have found relief with.
Every seasoned welder has a story of using tea bags or even aloe vera to treat the redness, and I have tried them myself! It really works, plus using home remedies has the added benefit of being less expensive and immediate relief should you have what you need on hand.
Tea Bags For Welders Flash
The home remedy that I most recommend that you use is tea bags. You are going to get a bag of black or green tea, and you are going to lay down and apply the tea bags to your eyes, just as if you are dealing with cucumbers. The nutrients found in the tea will do a good job of soothing your eyes. This should be done every day before going to sleep for about one week. If you do so, you are going to notice that your eyes don’t burn as much after a day or two.
How does the welder best protect his eyes from harmful rays?
While most welding-related eye injuries are reversible, with more than half of injured workers returning to work in less than two days and 95 percent in less than seven days, some eye injuries are irreversible and permanent visual impairment occurs. This is especially true with infrared and visible spectrum (bright light) radiation. Both can penetrate through to the retina and–although this is rare–can cause permanent retinal damage, including cataracts, diminished visual acuity, and higher sensitivity to light and glare.
And welders are not the only workers at risk. While the welding arc is the principal source of UVR, other workers in the area can sustain eye damage from the radiation as far as 50 feet away from UVR reflecting off shiny surfaces, concrete, or unpainted metals. To counteract this reflection, you should install shielding curtains that are practical or require that all workers in the area wear appropriate eye protection.
Beyond the immediate impact from radiation, welding also exposes workers to cumulative adverse effects that appear over time. A study in Denmark of 217 welders showed yellow spots on the white part of the eye in 57 percent of the welders and degeneration of the thin membrane over the eyeball in 24 percent. Researchers also found corneal scarring in about half of the subjects.
Yet, even though the insidious damage radiation can cause, molten and cold metal particles striking the eye are still the most common sources of eye injuries.
This one is simple. To protect your eyes from harmful UV and IR rays when welding, always wear an ANSI approved welding helmet. The ANSI Z87.1 standard requires that auto-darkening helmets provide full protection against both UV and IR rays even when they are not in the darkened state. So buyers should confirm that the helmet is ANSI Z87.1 compliant before purchasing.
Keep in mind that indirect exposure to a welding arc can be harmful too. So, even if you are standing some distance away from a person welding, your eyes will still be picking up some UV rays.
Safety glasses with UV protection are the unsung hero of welding accessories. When shaded, they can curtail bright light while enhancing contrast. But, even clear safety glasses can provide 100% UV protection if labelled so. Safety glasses are a must-have item when working in a welding shop.
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What should always be one of the most important reasons to wear them, one that may get overlooked is that UV rated safety glasses can spare sight from the short and long-term effects of UV damage.
Welder’s flash is an occupational hazard, but it’s one you don’t need to experience if you take sensible safety precautions. With helmets, safety glasses, and protective clothing, you can shield yourself from welder’s flash and much more serious eye injuries.
Don’t become a statistic just because you couldn’t immediately find your glasses and decided to take a chance. Wear them at all times, even if it takes a few minutes to rustle up your safety equipment.
How does a welder’s helmet protect your eyes?
Helmets and protective clothing shield welders from “sunburn” and “welder’s flash,” but with the majority of their work performed with the helmet up, welders also need to wear goggles or safety glasses with side-shields. These will protect them from particles sent flying during pre-job grinding, hammering, and power chipping that make it past the helmet’s protective front.
For most jobs, eye protection that conforms to ANSI Z87.1 is sufficient. However, shields or goggles with shade ratings of 3-8 should be worn for gas welding. For arc welding, safety glasses should be worn under shields.
How to protect your eyes when welding?
The first thing you need in place is an ANSI-approved helmet. All auto-darkening helmets that meet ANSI Z87.1 standards offer full protection against both ultraviolet and infrared rays.
However, since so much welding work is done with the helmet up, this is not enough if you want to safeguard your eyes. Make sure you also wear safety glasses with full UV protection. You can opt for clear or shaded glasses depending on what you feel most comfortable with.
UV protection has nothing to do with how dark the lenses of your glasses are. In fact, dark glasses that lack adequate UV protection can be worse than wearing none at all. Your pupils will dilate in the dark, exposing your retinas to unfiltered ultraviolet rays. Look for glasses with 100% UV protection, and don’t skimp by looking for the cheapest pair you can find.
Since you can also suffer from indirect exposure, you need to protect your eyes even if you’re standing as much as 50 feet from someone else who’s welding.
You should also wear a face shield over your glasses when you’re arc welding. When you’re gas welding, you’ll need a shield and glasses shade-rated anywhere from 3 to 8.
Personal Protective Equipment
PPE encompasses all equipment used to protect workers against health and safety risks that may be encountered at work. After all other safety measures have been implemented, risks will still remain when carrying out welding. Therefore, adequate eye PPE is important in ensuring that you are protected from arc flash. When eye PPE is chosen, it is important to select welding helmets or goggles with the correct scale of filter for the radiation produced by the welder.
However, the risk of eye damage is not the only hazard associated with welding, and eye protection is not the only PPE that must be worn. After a competent person has undertaken a thorough risk assessment, adequate PPE must be worn for all hazards that might be encountered at work. You must wear appropriate PPE every time you carry out any welding activities; even if you are only carrying out a quick task.
What is the safe distance from welding arc flash?
It can be hard to know when you might be at risk of arc-eye. Radiation intensity and duration of exposure can both affect the likelihood of an injury. You do not have to be the individual using the welder to experience arc-eye, just being in the vicinity of an in-use welder can be enough. Therefore, it’s important to ensure that you are aware of the precautions you should take to reduce your risk.
The radiation intensity is strongly dependent on the distance from a welder’s arc. Therefore, if you are a short distance from an arc, even a very short exposure to the arc flash can result in injury. As a result, personnel must be subject to adequate protection if they’re closer than 10 metres from an arc flash. For example, you must be behind a Welding Curtain or wearing personal eye protection. Even though the intensity of the radiation decreases the further you are from the source, actively looking at the flash of a welding arc is still ill-advised as long durations at a long distance can still result in a flash burn.
Is there training for welders?
OSHA requires employers to make employees aware of hazards in their work environment. Welder training should acknowledge hazards and list the proper procedures to follow when welding. It should instruct workers on how to choose the proper shade for their helmets and teach them to drop their helmet before they arc.
It’s important to discuss proper use and maintenance of PPE. All items should be inspected before use. If lenses are scratched, pitted, or cracked, they should be replaced. Goggle straps that are knotted, twisted, or stretched also should be replaced.
If checklists or other documentation is used in training, it’s imperative that they use clear language to explain the hazard. Possible consequences for not complying with the standard should be included, as well as methods to avoid the hazard.
Welders should learn basic first aid for eye injuries so that they are prepared if an accident occurs and more receptive to efforts others make to help them.
For example, if something becomes embedded in a welder’s eye, the item shouldn’t be removed until medical help is available. However, if the irritant is a small particle of dust or a chemical splash, flushing is recommended to remove it quickly.
Using the proper PPE should lessen the chance of injuries, but knowing what to do based on the type of emergency is equally important and can make the difference in saving a worker’s sight.
Remembering and implementing these basics will help lessen the chance of injury and promote welder and workplace safety.
Is it only radiation that can damage your eyes when welding?
No flash burns are the most serious and common causes of eye injuries when welding, and radiation isn’t the only thing that puts your eyes at risk. There are many other jobs in welding workshops that fling particles into the air, any of which are potentially harmful if your eyes remain unprotected.
Angle grinders send debris flying, and any kind of cutting tools, from band saws to chop saws, have the same capacity to emit projectiles. Sanding, buffing, and notching pipe are also potentially hazardous for the same reason.
Thousands of people every year are not just injured at work but blinded as well. Even sadder than that, 90% of all eye injuries are preventable if you wear the correct eye protection.
Don’t be lazy or cheap, get a good welders helmet like the one mentioned above. Yes, welding can be bad for your eyes, but if you do things right, you should be able to avoid injury. Make sure you have proper ventilation from fumes and have a good pair of tight sealing safety glasses. There is nothing worse than getting sidelined from work for a weak. Or keeping you from your projects or hobbies because you were in “too much of a hurry” to complete a certain task.