Operators in the metal fabrication industry are exposed to a range of hazardous conditions every day because of their line of work. One of the most prevalent and concerning hazardous is a bi-product of electric arc and laser welding known as ultraviolet radiation (UV). As the UV radiation reflects off hard and smooth surfaces this can cause sunburn, eye damage, cataracts, ocular melanoma, and skin cancer.
One of the biggest exposure risk areas are the eyes. Operators that do not have adequate eye protection for their application present a range of physical symptoms that indicate there has been dangerous exposure levels to their eyes. The most obvious is the tearing/reddening of the eye and the membranes around the eye which gives the appearance of being bloodshot. This also creates the sensation that is described as having ‘sand in the eye’ which causes a painful irritation. In addition to this, abnormal sensitivity to light and the inability to look at light sources are further indications of harmful UV exposure.
The severity of these effects depends largely on the intensity of the radiation, distance from arc, angle at which the radiation enters the eye and the protection the operator is using. These factors will ultimately determine the long-term effects on the eyes. In some cases, long-term exposure will produce cataracts in their eyes, causing blurred vision, and in worst cases, ocular melanoma (OM) can form. OM causes vision loss and can be fatal as the malignant tumor spreads throughout the body to the liver, lungs, and bones.
The other major risk area is the skin. Exposure to UV radiation causes UVB to penetrate the top layer of skin, which damages cells and causes the skin to burn. Welding arc will burn any unprotected skin in the same way sunlight does. When skin is exposed to long term UV radiation and the body is unable to repair damaged cells, the cells can then begin to divide and grow in an uncontrolled way which can lead to tumors.
The Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) governs the level of protection needed for lens safety, and the radiation protection is determined by the auto-darkening shade lens number. These shade numbers range from 7-14 and depending on the application a higher or lower level of protection will be required. (Refer to the OSHA standards for required auto-darkening shade lens number for your application).
OSHA requires that the hands, neck, and ears be protected. However, it is also recommended that long-sleeve button-up shirts, long pants, and spark resistant head coverings are worn to protect the skin from burns and UV exposure.
By applying these simple protective safety measures, the risks of UV radiation become significantly reduced, leaving you to do what you love, for longer.
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Canadian Centre for Occupational Health and Safety. (2018, May 1). Welding - Radiation and the Effects On Eyes and Skin. Retrieved from Canadian Centre for Occupational Health and Safety: https://www.ccohs.ca/oshanswers/safety_haz/welding/eyes.html
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OSHA. (2012, January). Eye Protection against Radiant Energy during Welding and Cutting in Shipyard Employment. Retrieved from OSHA Fact Sheet: https://www.osha.gov/sites/default/files/publications/OSHAfactsheet-eyeprotection-during-welding.pdf