Whether you’re curious about welding, know a welder, or you’re currently a welder, you may wonder about welding’s effects on your eye’s health. In fact, more than once you may have asked yourself, “Is welding bad for your eyes?”
The answer is both yes and no.
Welding can be bad for your eyes if you don’t take safety precautions seriously, but if you wear protective gear and educate yourself on the best welding practices, you’ll easily prevent eye damage. Let’s take a closer look at what you need to know to stay safe:
The Potential Risks of Welding
Before we get into the safety procedures needed to prevent injuries, let’s talk facts.
According to an article in the BMJ Journal, eye injuries accounted for 25% of all compensation claims for welders. A journalist for The Weldermagazine notes that the Bureau of Labor Statistics estimates that over 365,000 welders become victims of work-related eye afflictions each year.
The welders who are most at risk for eye-related injuries are those who create fabricated metal products, industrial and commercial machinery.
The silver lining is that welding injuries to eyes are preventable, and when they do happen, they’re unlikely to create permanent damage when treated properly.
How Does Welding Harm Your Eyes?
Welding can potentially harm your eyes in two ways:
- Immediately, by flying debris
- Over time, through radiation exposure
Here’s a closer look at each:
Debris Being lodged Into The Eyes
The more obvious ways welding can harm your eyes is through debris hurtling through the air and striking the eye.
Debris can include cold metal and molten particles and projectiles from angle grinders, saws, cutting tools, and other machines that may be in the work area.
If a welder isn’t wearing any kind of protective gear, the flying particles can easily hit the eyes, but even if the welder is wearing a helmet, it may not be enough.
If you’re not wearing safety glasses or goggles, the debris can make it past the helmet’s front shield and into the eye.
Radiation Burn To The Eyes
The not-so-obvious way welding can harm your eyes is through the light radiation it produces.
Stick welding, gas-stick welding, and oxyacetylene welding give off ultraviolet, visible spectrum, and infrared radiation.
Ultraviolet radiation (UVR or UV light) can be absorbed through the lens and cornea, causing swelling and pain.
All three types of light radiation mentioned can penetrate the retina causing retinal damage, cataracts, diminished vision/partial blindness, and sensitivity to light.
It’s important to note that reflected light can also carry radiation as far as 50 feet away, so even if you’re not the one welding, your eyes can sustain damage from UV light reflecting off metal, concrete, and other shiny surfaces.
Aside from immediate radiation damage, welding can cause long-term effects such as yellow spots on the eyes, degeneration of the membrane covering the eye, and corneal scarring.
Welding Flash Burn
When researching “Is welding bad for your eyes?” you’ll find a great deal of information on photokeratitis, or “welder’s flash.”
Exposure to UV light produces flash burns, which some describe as a sunburn in the eye.
If treated, the eye is usually able to heal itself within a couple of days, but an untreated welding flash burn may lead to infection and vision loss.
Welding Flash Burn Symptoms
The various symptoms of flash burn include the following:
- Pain in one or both eyes not long after exposure to UV light
- Bloodshot eyes
- Irritation or the feeling of having something in your eye
- Watering eyes
- Light sensitivity
- Blurred vision
Most of the welding flash burns are only felt 5 -6 hrs after being exposed to light radiation. If you experience any of these symptoms, stop welding immediately.
Diagnosing Welding Flash Burn
Welder’s flash is diagnosed through an eye examination, which may include using anesthetic eye drops to numb the eye so that the doctor can inspect for damage.
The doctor may also drop orange dye into the eye, then use a special blue light to detect injuries.
Welding Flash Burn Treatment
Flash burn treatments include:
- Eye drops and ointments
- Dilating drops used to relax the eye muscles and ease pain
- Wearing a padded eye dressing or patch to allow for healing
- Using antibiotic drops or ointments to stop an infection
In most cases, you’ll return to the doctor for a follow-up review within 48 hours. The doctor will make sure your eye is healing and that there is no infection.
For more severe problems, you’ll be sent to a specialist eye doctor known as an ophthalmologist.
Preventing Eye Injury When Welding
Wearing and using proper eye protection is the best way to prevent injuries due to flying debris and flash burns.
Essential eye protection equipment includes safety glasses or goggles, a welding helmet, and a flameproof skullcap.
Safety glasses and goggles protect from dust, radiation, and debris impact. Goggles generally provide better protection than glasses because they cover both the front and sides of the eyes.
If you prefer safety glasses, make sure yours is equipped with side shields to protect your eyes from flying particles that may make it past the front of the helmet.
Another essential piece of equipment is a welding helmet with a lens shade appropriate for the type of welding work performed.
A darker shade does not provide more protection against UV rays, so it’s necessary to try out different strengths before selecting the right one for you.
The correct shade lens will prevent eye strain from a too light or too darker viewing area.
OSHA’s welding, cutting, and brazing general standards provide an overview of shade requirements for welding operations.
Lastly, although not required, a flameproof skullcap worn under the helmet can help protect the welder’s head from sparks and heat.
The large amounts of dust and debris that land on the skullcap can be shanken off after long periods of welding. This prevents the dust falling from you hair into your eyes.
It’s also important for non-welders to protect against eye injury. Enclose welding areas with shielding curtains or screens to counteract UV light reflections and filter radiation, sparks, and debris.
Additionally, OSHA requires signs to be placed in hazardous areas that warn of the potential hazard and list the necessary personal protective equipment required.
Is Welding Bad For Your Eyes Final Thoughts
To recap, when asking is welding bad for your eyes, we must answer yes and no. The answer depends on the individual and whether the welder takes appropriate safety precautions, wears protective gear, and follows guidelines.
With proper training and welding equipment, you can prevent common eye injuries like flash burns and both toxic and non-toxic particles getting into your eyes.
Take time to educate and protect yourself so that you can enjoy many more years of welding.