Gases, flying particles, heat, and light can all
present a hazard to unprotected eyes, and even
the most experienced and safety-conscious welders
can sustain a minor injury during the course of their
“Eye injuries are the most common types of
injuries for welders,” said Charles Flowers, MD,
associate professor of clinical ophthalmology at the
USC Roski Eye Institute in Los Angeles. “There are a
lot of things that can happen, but the main risks are
from flying particles, chemical burns, and radiation.”
Nearly all types of welding, including gas metal
arc welding (GMAW), oxyacetylene welding (OAW),
and shielded metal arc welding (SMAW), can also
present risk of injury to the eyes. Steve Hedrick,
manager of safety and health at the American Weld-
ing Society, said nearly 70 percent of eye-related
injuries in welders are caused by falling objects, fly-
ing particles, or sparks hitting the eye. While these
injuries can at times be serious, they are also the
most preventable by using proper personal protec-
tive equipment (PPE).
Most welders are cognizant of the PPE they’re
supposed to use, but discomfort and heat often can
entice some to skimp on safety. Derek Baker, senior
technical service specialist at 3M, said one of the
most common paths to injury is when welders don’t
wear goggles under their mask. They flip up their
mask to make what they figure is a quick, low-risk
adjustment or grind and leave their eyes exposed.
“Cheating, or not having the proper PPE on hand
and just doing the work, is a quick way to injury.
You’ve got to have the safety spectacles on all the
time as your primary protection wear under your
helmet,” Baker explained.
Manufacturers are now making these products
more comfortable and performance-driven. Proper
fit and comfort is critical for goggles and masks.
While a hardhat and welding helmet might meet the
minimum PPE standards required by OSHA, some
new systems incorporate head, eye, face, respiratory, and hearing protection all in one unit. Some of
these units even have cooling fans to keep the face
cool and reduce fogging.
“[These designs] allow you to do both welding
and grinding with one unit, and you’ve always got the
proper PPE at hand. You never have to swap out your
welding helmet and grinding shield,” Baker said.
CORNEAL FLASH BURN
Another risk welders face is corneal flash burns from
UV light and radiation produced by the arc. Also
known as “arc eye,” photokeratitis, or ultraviolet
keratitis, can occur when the welder looks directly
at the arc without proper protection. The condition
typically isn’t permanent, but it can be painful and involve swelling and tearing of the cornea. Yet because
UV rays are invisible to the naked eye, the problems
related to exposure often go undetected until symptoms arise. These symptoms can include bloodshot
eyes, light sensitivity, blurry vision, tearing, and even
the sensation of an object inside the eye.
“It usually clears up in 48 hours. While more
severe cases are rare, they can cause [permanent]
damage to the retina,” Flowers noted.
UV rays reflecting from surfaces can even put
bystanders at risk and can cause damage to the
eyes from as far as 50 feet away. The best way to
reduce the risk of corneal flash burn is to ensure the
goggles or mask is equipped with the appropriate
shade filter. Many masks now have autodarkening
filters that ensure the welder is using the right shade
and eliminate the need to constantly raise and lower
the helmet. Autodarkening filters also often include
a special filter that can block harmful radiation even
if the main element fails.
“A lot of welders are using autodarkening lenses
now, and it completely eliminates the need to continuously flip the helmet,” Hedrick said.
Baker said new antifog coatings also reduce the
urge for the welder to continually remove the mask
and goggles from the head. Top-quality helmets fit
various head sizes, offer multiple adjustment combinations, and avoid putting pressures on sensitive
areas. A good helmet also has a lightweight design
that allows it to be worn more comfortably for long
periods of time. The helmet should include a fore
and aft adjustment to offer enough space between
Figure 2. The risk to the retina may be minimal when it comes
to injuries such as “eye arc,” but the damage, should an injury
to the retina occur, could be great. The retina is a thin layer of
tissue that lines the back of the eye on the inside. The purpose
of the retina is to receive light that the lens has focused,
convert the light into neural signals, and send these signals on
to the brain for visual recognition. Damage to the retina can
greatly decrease a person’s ability to see clearly.