When it comes to welding, one of the most common topics among beginners is the eyes. To be more specific, more often, the discussion is around how welding affects the eyes, and “is welding bad for your eyes”? Many confirm that welding contributes to eye strain, but some take it to the extreme and assert that welding will eventually leave you blind, especially if you do not do anything to protect your vision.
So, Is Welding Bad For Your Eyes? Yes, welding can be bad for your eyes, and your eyesight, but it doesn’t have to be. Fumes, flying metal sparks, IR and UV radiation caused by welding are bad your eyes. As long as you take the proper safety measures to protect your eyes, negatively affecting your eyesight will be unlikely.
We owned and operated a Metal Fabrication business for years developing new products in the concrete industry among many other things. We had many employees welding on a daily basis, so we are very familiar with welding and the effects it has on your eyes.
Personal safety for not only yourself but also employees was always first and foremost when it came to welding safety and OSHA eye safety requirements. Having said that we would go over the subject below a little more.
Eye injuries are one of the most common among welders, something pretty sad given the fact that they are very preventable in the first place.
Welding can damage our eyes in several ways, including flying debris and UV light, so It’s important that we never weld without a helmet on. Being in a hurry and complacent about not wearing proper safety equipment will get you in trouble, and that’s often when a person gets hurt.
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.
Problems Caused by Ultraviolet and Infrared Radiation
All the main types of welding produce ultraviolet, visible spectrum, and infrared radiation. Since reflected light can also carry radiation, your eyes can be damaged from the arcs of other welders, too. Ultraviolet radiation (UVR) in particular, gets absorbed in the lens and cornea and leads to swollen, painful eyes. Fortunately, this is seldom permanent.
Eye damage brought about in this manner is called Photokeratitis or “welder’s flash.” While intensely painful, it’s not irreversible. That said, ongoing exposure to this type of radiation can yellow both the lens and cornea over time. When this happens, you’ll struggle with contrast in your vision.
Symptoms of welder’s flash include the following:
- Pain – anywhere from mild to severe – in one or both eyes
- Irritation of the eyes
- Blurred vision
- Increased sensitivity to light
- Watering eyes
- Bloodshot eyes
In the worst-case scenario, you can experience permanent retinal damage leading to cataracts. Fleeting (if painful) eye problems from welding are far more common than serious and permanent issues, but safety is still paramount, so you need to make sure you protect yourself when you’re in the shop
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 per cent 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.
How does the welder best protect his eyes from harmful rays?
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.
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.
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. 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.
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.
What Is Arc-Eye?
Arc-eye, also known as welder’s flash, is an inflammation of the cornea and is a result of ultraviolet (UV) radiation released by a welding arc. Other causes of arc-eye are directly looking at:
- The sun.
- A tanning salon sunlamp, a halogen lamp or photographer’s flood lamp.
- The reflection of the sun off snow or water.
Often, the symptoms of arc-eye do not appear immediately. Instead, they will develop over a period of a few hours. You may, therefore, be unaware that you are suffering from arc-eye for several hours after exposure. As the most common source of the ocular flash burn, it’s important you take adequate precautions to protect yourself if you work with, or around, welders.
“I Accidentally Looked At A Welding Arc”
If you have looked at a welding arc without wearing appropriate Personal Protective Equipment (PPE), you will likely be suffering some, or all, of the following symptoms:
- Mild pressure or intense pain in the eyes.
- Abnormal sensitivity to light or being unable to look at a light source.
- Abnormal watering of the eyes.
- Reddening of the eye and surrounding membranes.
- Tearing of the eye and surrounding membranes.
- Feeling as if there is ‘grit or sand’ in your eye.
Many factors can affect the severity of a flash burn injury, including distance, duration and the angle at which the radiation penetrates the eye. Additionally, long term exposure can sometimes result in cataracts, leading to loss of vision.
You should seek medical advice if you are experiencing symptoms. This is important as there may also be foreign bodies present in the eye that are contributing to your discomfort, and hence, you may require antibiotic treatment to prevent infections. If you are suffering from arc-eye, your doctor will likely provide you with eye treatments, such as dilating drops and padded dressings, to allow your eyes to rest and recover. Twenty-four to forty-eight hours after treatment begins, you will need to be reviewed by your doctor to ensure that your eyes are healing and that no infection has arisen. If there are any problems with your treatment, you will be referred to a specialist.
Your cornea should repair in one to two days. However, if you do not get arc-eye treated, you leave yourself susceptible to infections. In serious cases, this can result in varying degrees of vision loss.
What is Welders Flash or Photokeratitis?
We welders have several names for these kinds of UV and IR related injuries. The most common ones include “Welder’s Flash” “Arc Eye” among others. These are all the same thing: damage to the cornea caused by UV radiation.
Welder’s flash, also known as Photokeratitis, is usually noticed several hours after being sustained, and just as you might imagine, it’s a very painful injury. The symptoms usually consist of red, bloodshot eyes as if you had conjunctivitis, teary eyes, decreased ability to see during the daylight, and obvious pain.
Thankfully, as scary as this might seem, most Photokeratitis injuries are temporal, and any symptoms tend to be temporary. Over 90% of people will recover fully, but again, it’s important that you go to an ophthalmologist so that they can check your eyes more clearly.
They are the ones most qualified to help you with this injury. Most likely, you will be prescribed some eye drops, but there’s also the chance that more complicated solutions will be suggested.
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 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 about eye damage from other causes in the welding shop?
- Grinding including portable angle grinders and table grinders
- Cutting includes plasma/torch cutting, chop saw, and bandsaw cutting
- Buffing/cleaning with a stiff wire wheel attached to an angle or bench grinder
- Sanding with a flap wheel on an angle grinder
- Notching pipe
- Chipping and hammering slag
The actual list is much longer, but I think you get the point. If not, the point is that if it rotates, spins, saws, melts steel, or in any way ejects particles of any kind into the air, you need eye and face protection.
OSHA states that thousands of people are blinded each year from work-related eye injuries that could have been prevented with the proper selection and use of eye and face protection. And, according to the American Academy of Ophthalmology, an estimated 90 per cent of eye injuries are preventable with the use of proper safety eyewear. Even a minor injury to the cornea, like that from a small particle of dust or debris, can be painful and become a life-long issue.
Preventing Eye Injuries When Welding
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.
Cumulative 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.
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.