Welding is a creative, lucrative, yet extremely challenging career. Professional welders, and even amateurs who are trying to pick up the craft in their workshops, are routinely exposed to the job’s many hazards.
As a result, welders do have a shorter life expectancy than people who work desk jobs. However, that doesn’t mean picking up a welding gun is automatically a death sentence. You can reduce the effect welding has on your life expectancy by taking safety precautions and staying mindful of the very real dangers associated with welding.
Here is your guide to the effect welding might have on your life expectancy. This isn’t an order to change your career or hobby, but it is important to go into welding clear-eyed about the risks of the profession.
Table of Contents
Does Welding Shorten Your Life?
While professional welders are in high demand and some of the best-paid blue-collar workers out there, there are some dark sides to the profession. One reason why welders are in such high demand is that there is a shortage of people willing to do this dirty job.
Welders have life expectancies of about 50 years, which is much shorter than the US average of about 78 years. Most people look at that statistic and decide no high salary or prestigious job is worth potentially losing decades of their lives.
So why is the life expectancy so much shorter for welders than for members of the general population? There are a few reasons. First, welders are more prone to dangerous accidents. Certain types of welding, such as underwater welding, are more dangerous because accidents are more likely. Welding also shortens people’s life expectancies due to the long-term health problems caused by welding (more on those later).
However, it’s important to remember that life expectancy is an average. That means welders, on average, live for about 50–60 years, not that all welders are doomed to never live to retirement. While the risk of an accident or severe long-term health consequences is higher for welders than for the general populace, it is not guaranteed. You can also lessen your risk of death by taking the right safety precautions or choosing a safer industry within the wider welding field, such as linework.
Common Welding Accidents
One reason why welders have shorter life expectancies is the prevalence of potentially deadly accidents on welding sites. Here are some accidents common among welders. Over 500,000 welders get into accidents on the job every year, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics.
1. Electric Shocks
Professional welders use electrical welding machines that create an electric arc. Welders who touch the arc or any material that conducts electricity, such as metal, and which was in contact with the arc will experience an electric shock. Electric shocks cause short-term injuries such as burns and pain but can even lead to long-term damage.
2. Heat Burns
Besides electricity, welding involves a lot of heat. Coming in contact with the arc, molten metal, or even a project that hasn’t cooled properly can cause burns. Larger burns are difficult to treat and can cause lifelong disfigurement and even death.
3. Welding Flash
Another common source of accidents, including sometimes fatal ones, is welding flash. The brightness of the welding arc is not designed for human eyes, so looking at it without the right protection can cause ocular damage, including blindness.
4. Common Welding Injuries
Even in cases when these accidents don’t cause fatalities, they will cause injuries. Welders, even the most careful ones, experience many injuries throughout their careers. These injuries add up, causing lasting health consequences and even premature deaths.
Burns are some of the most common welding injuries, from heat burns to arc flash burns to electrical burns. They range from mild to third-degree burns. Their impact depends on the burn’s severity, size, and placement on the body.
Eye injuries are also very common due to the brightness of the welding arc. Ocular and auditory damage is also very common, with long-term consequences for welders.
Cuts and other skin injuries are common when welding. Besides working with high-powered equipment that can cut metal with heat, let alone skin, welders also work with saws, drills, and other heavy equipment that can cause these injuries.
Finally, injuries that result from fume inhalation are very common. Nausea, shortness of breath, and even metal fume fever are common illnesses that happen when someone is exposed to welding fumes for a long time.
The danger in welding doesn’t come just from rare but deadly accidents. A lifetime of welding leads to many long-term problems.
Welders that are lucky to avoid deadly accidents such as electrocutions and falls are still exposed to dangerous substances. Welders inhale deadly fumes as they work, which stay in their bodies and accumulate after decades on the job. They are also exposed to bright lights, lots of noise, and other hazardous working conditions that cause health problems in retirement (for welders lucky enough to make it to retirement).
Many people are aware of the damage to their eyes during welding, but few welders starting out will think about their ears. However, welding machines are very loud, and exposure to such high decibels leads to deafness.
Welders inhale toxic fumes that include dangerous substances such as
- Carbon monoxide
- Carbon dioxide
Long-term exposure to these gases and elements causes respiratory problems such as chronic obstructive pulmonary disease or COPD. COPD is the name for a group of respiratory diseases that block regular airflow, making it difficult to breathe unassisted.
Cancer is one of the deadliest consequences of long-term exposure to toxic fumes through welding. Elements such as chromium and nickel enter into the alveoli in your lungs, poisoning the cells and causing lung cancer to develop. Welders are also at higher risk of other respiratory system cancers, such as throat cancer. Welders have many of the same health risks as smokers as they are exposed to similarly toxic chemicals.
What Are the Most Dangerous Types of Welding?
If you want to have a welding career but are worried about your health, you may want to avoid these branches of the industry.
Underwater welding requires exposure to many of the same dangers as welding on dry land, such as burns, toxic fumes, and electric shock. However, the risk of electrocution increases because water is a very effective electricity conductor. Underwater welders are at risk of drowning if equipment fails or an accident happens. Underwater welders may have some of the highest paychecks in the industry, but they also have the highest fatality rates.
Rig welders, who work on oil and gas rigs, also have one of the most dangerous jobs out there. They often have to work underwater, exposing them to the risks of underwater welding. Plus, if they make a mistake, the whole rig could explode, killing everyone on it.
Welding is a rewarding career and hobby, but it is also a dangerous one. Welders have a lower life expectancy than most other professions and a much higher rate of accidents and long-term workplace-related health problems. Consider the risks before starting this career.