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How to Avoid Welding Arc Flash

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Arc flash is a common occurrence for those using or working around electric arc welders. As anyone who’s experienced it will tell you, they’re not fun.

What is a Welding Arc Flash?

Welding arc flash is a burn of the outer layer of the eyeball caused by the intense ultra-violet radiation generated by electric welding arcs. It can also happen due to exposure to any electric arc including switchboard malfunctions. It’s just like sunburn, but instead of your skin, it’s on your eyeball. Just like sunburn to other parts of your body, cells are killed and need to be replaced. The “gritty” feeling associated with arc flashes is actually the dead cells being shed from the surface of the eye (just like the peeling skin associated with sunburn), which irritates the inside of the eyelid. This is why your eyes get puffy, red, and watery when you experience a flash. Just like sunburn, there’s no cure for a welding arc flash. Eye drops given to you by your doctor relieve some of the discomfort but don’t do anything to address the underlying problem. You just have to wait until the body’s healing processes have finished, which can take days in severe cases. You should always get medical attention as soon as you become aware that you’ve suffered a flash. While most are only mild, some can be very severe and cause permanent damage to the eye and your vision. Early medical treatment can reduce some of these more serious effects.

How to Avoid Getting a Welding Arc Flash?

Now that we know what it is, how can we avoid it?

The best way is to avoid exposure to the arc flash in the first place by not being in areas where electric arc welding is happening. Obviously, if you’re a welder, assisting a welder, or can’t avoid being in the area, this is not possible.

The next best form of protection is placing a barrier between yourself and the welding process. Welding curtains or solid screens prevent the UV radiation from affecting those not directly involved in the job. Again, this is not always possible and certainly not for the person doing the welding.

Most arc flashes happen to those in the area and not involved in the welding process or to welders in the short period of time between striking the arc and putting the welding screen in place.

These types of flashes can be prevented through the simple means of wearing safety glasses. Modern safety glasses have lenses made from polycarbonate, which absorbs up to 99% of the damaging UV radiation and also protects your eyes from welding sparks and other debris in the air.

Additional protection can be gained by using head-mounted rather than hand-held welding screens, and preferably those with flip-up lenses and protective clear polycarbonate screens fixed into the welding screen.

Auto-darkening welding screens provide the best protection. These screens have special technology that automatically (and almost instantaneously) darkens the lens when UV radiation is detected and then clears when the UV radiation is not present. These types of welding screens also provide much better face and head protection against damaging UV radiation and flying particles generated in the welding process.

Following these relatively simple steps will prevent you from suffering the discomfort of a welding arc flash.

* Avoid areas where electric arc welding is being performed unless you absolutely have to be there

* If you’re welding or in the area where welding is taking place, always wear compliant safety glasses

* If practical, use welding curtains or other types of solid screen to prevent others from being affected by the welding arc

* Always use a head-mounted welding screen (and preferably an auto-darkening one) when welding.

–Sal Colalillo



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