Slag and sparks are hot and plentiful while welding, especially for larger stick welding projects. There are new stories every week about shops that have burned down, houses and garage that caught fire, and welders who were severely burned from accidental welding fires.
Controlling Your Welding Environment
You can weld safely by taking careful stock of your environment. It’s ideal to weld with a clearance of 35 feet from any other surface or shelf. Sparks and slag from welding get extremely hot and can smolder for a long time in dust, sawdust, and fabric. If you’re welding in the garage, consider that the sawdust from last weekend’s woodworking project or the cardboard boxes lining your shelves could all catch fire.
Welding fires can often catch after you’re done working or when sparks fly further than expected, catching materials that were not cleared to a safe distance. Take note of any other environmental factors, such as ventilation, the breeze, or flammable materials that may need to be removed or better secured. If you are welding in a new location, don’t assume any of the barrels or containers in the room are safe. Check first, especially if you’re welding on TOP of any of these barrels.
At the very least your welding shop should have a shop vac for sucking up dust and sawdust and have all flammable material removed or securely covered. And don’t forget a new fire extinguisher!
When You Can’t Control Everything for Welding Safety
Sometimes you can’t change the floor surface where you need to weld, you need to weld on a roof around flammable objects, or you need to weld in a shop that you can’t modify to your liking. There are plenty of options, such as placing flame-resistant material over the shelves, doorways, or surfaces that could catch a spark.
While every welder should consider having a fire extinguisher, sand, and flame dampening blankets on hand, it’s all the more essential to have these materials on hand if you’re welding in a location that you can’t make completely safe based on its set up.
Many welding companies recommend using a “fire spotter” if you can’t guarantee the fire safety of your location. Fire spotters can watch your welding sparks to ensure they don’t catch fire, extinguish flames quickly, and keep an eye on the welding area for at least 30 minutes after you’re done working to ensure there are no fires.
Personal Safety for Welding
The bare minimum for welding safety would be a combination of a welding helmet, long sleeve cotton clothing, and welding gloves. The type of helmet you choose will depend on your welding position, process, and length of time spent welding. Of course the more sensors and shades you have, the safer your eyes will be. The higher end welding helmets offer significant upgrades in comfort, safety, and adaptation that make them worthwhile investments.
Cotton clothing tends to be safer than synthetics that are more likely to catch fire, but it’s often ideal to get flame resistant jackets, bibs, vests, or shirts that are specially designed to protect you. By the same token, welding gloves with cuffs are essential for welding processes that give off lots of sparks and heat, such as MIG welding and stick welding.