Eye injuries are the most common type of injuries reported by most welders and they account for about 25% of all welding injuries. Although most of these injuries can be reversed, some are far more serious and can lead to irreversible visual impairment.
Fortunately, eye injuries can be prevented and controlled by selecting and using proper eye protection equipment which can be effective if done correctly and consistently. However, you will find that most workers don’t always put on the recommended protective equipment due to ignorance, poorly maintained equipment, while some report some form of discomfort while wearing the equipment.
Causes of Eye Injuries
Welding injuries to the eyes generally falls into the following categories;
i. Photochemical burns from exposure to UV radiation, intense blue light, and infrared radiation.
Photochemical burns from exposure to these radiations are a major threat to the eyes. Exposure mostly goes undetected because some of these radiations, like UV rays, are not visible. Arc eye or welder’s flash is a common injury that results from exposure to UV rays. This condition can occur even from just few seconds exposure to such rays. The condition is characterized by a swollen cornea, pain, watery eyes and sensitivity to light exposure.
Intense blue light and infrared radiation accounts for most irreversible eye injuries leading to permanent visual impairment. This is because these two radiations can penetrate through to retina causing permanent damage to the retina including diminished visibility and cataracts.
ii. Injuries from flying particles and slag fragments.
Injuries from slag fragments and other flying particles generally occurs when the welder does not wear protective equipment such as safety goggles, or when the equipment is of poor quality or it is poorly maintained.
iii. Mechanical damage from irritating fumes, chemicals, and vapors.
Exposure to vapors, irritating fumes,and chemicals vary according to the nature of weld which includes various preparations, metals being welded, and also finishes and other treatments.
Guarding against eye injuries; is eye protection all about the helmet?
In order to promote a safe working environment, workers should be made aware of the risks that they face so that they work on protection plan that will work towards reducing these eye injuries.
While helmets guard welders from welder’s flash, it is important to take extra precautions to combat hazards even before you put on PPE. Such precautions include clip-on and side shields which can help in reducing the amount of slag and other particles reaching welder’s face. The side shields also protect the welder’s eyes from indirect UV rays.
Considering that some tasks requires that the helmet be held up, welder will be required to wear safety glasses or goggles. This will ensure that they are protected from any particles that may go beyond the helmet protective front.
Some goggles and safety glasses are fitted with prescription safety lenses to cater for welders who wear corrective lenses. In addition to this, wearing contact lenses while welding can protect welder’s eyes to some extent but excessive fumes and particles can limit their use. As such, welders should consider wearing glasses and goggles fitted with contact lenses so as to ensure proper protection.
The safety glasses or goggles must fit well and must feel comfortable when worn under the helmet in order for them to be efficient.
As for the helmet, the welder should focus on a shade that will go hand in hand with the task to be performed. A welding helmet can have a fixed shade or variable shade. Fixed shade helmets as the name suggests are best suited for welders performing same welding tasks while the opposite is true for the variable shade helmets.
While selecting the lens shades, it is advisable to begin with the darkest level and then adjust slowly either manually or automatically to lighter shades until an accurate view of the weld area is achieved. However, the welder should not go below the minimum protective level.
Training will play a key role in ensuring that the employees are well informed about the hazards in their work area. The training should entail the procedures to follow when welding, choosing the correct shade for the helmets, welding caps, wearing goggles and glasses and so on.
Proper use and maintenance of PPE should also be discussed. The equipment should be in good condition with immediate replacement for the non-functional ones.
Welders should learn some basic first aid in case of an injury which will help in preventing irreversible damage to the eyes.
Having an ongoing eye protection program will ensure that welders are protected from potential eye injuries and it will also ensure a safe working environment in general. Such program should entail;
- Proper planning of the place where welding will be carried out. The area should be reviewed and special considerations should be noted.
- The area should be free from trip hazards considering that welders can easily trip and fall especially when working with helmet down.
- Mark the area to keep non-welders away; you can isolate it with curtains that can absorb radiation in order to protect unaware passersby.
- All reflective surfaces should be well covered.
- Other workers that are not welding should also wear eye protection to protect them from accidental exposure to welder’s flash and other hazards.
- All eye protection equipment should be kept in good condition.
- Wearing Welding cap is also recommended.
- Welders with eye injuries should seek medical attention to prevent permanent injury.