Will welding damage my eyes?

It could, but only if you are very reckless when it comes to protecting your eyes!

Welder Grinding

There are many things about the welding process that can be very hazardous to your eyes. Starting with the welding process itself, ultraviolet and infrared rays are emitted not just from the welding arc but also from the molten metal. And, both UV and IR are extremely hazardous to your eyes. However, what is more likely to be more dangerous for a welder’s eyes is debris from the grinding, brushing or chipping process before or after the actual welding is done.

Indirect UV and IR rays can damage your eyes as well. The worst eye burns I ever received was when I was welding at night with two other welders in the shop. We were welding in close proximity to each other with helmets that had fixed filters. (This was before the auto-darkening helmet was invented.) The direct and indirect flashes from the side and the rear really did a number on my eyes. Anyone who has burned their eyes welding knows how painful it can be.

In case you didn’t know, reflected light still carries UV rays.

When you burn your eyes welding, it is called Photokeratitis. Photokeratitis is basically sunburn of the cornea. While the damage is not permanent, the pain can be severe. It took two days and nights, and nights are the worst, for my eyes to get better.

How do ultraviolet and infrared rays harm the eyes?

As mentioned, Photokeratitis while painful is not permanent. However, if you received enough UV rays to actually burn your corneas, you just added another dose of UV rays to the total accumulation your eyes have received to date.

Just as our skin feels the burn after several hours in the sun, spending time under intense, unprotected exposure to UV radiation can cause a variety of short-term problems in our eyes. The short-term effects of UV eye damage may diminish but the cumulative UV exposure can yellow both the lens and the cornea, making it more difficult to discern contrast in our vision.

MIG Welding

What are some other eye problems caused by UV and IR rays?

Pterygium is another potential result of UV damage and is also known as “surfer’s eye.”  It is an abnormal growth on the surface of the eye that is usually benign, most often originating in the corner near the nose. It can cause swelling and irritation as well as corneal problems that could affect vision. While the symptoms may be resolved with surgery, they may also re-grow later.

Cataracts are the most common cause of vision loss in people over 40. A cataract is defined as the progressive clouding of the lenses of the eyes. Left untreated they are ranked globally as a primary cause of reversible blindness. The World Health Organization (WHO) estimates that up to 20 percent of all cataract cases are attributable to UV radiation and are preventable. As many as three million surgeries to remove cataracts are performed in the U.S. annually. And according to Prevent Blindness America, more than 20 million Americans have cataracts.

Age-related macular degeneration (AMD), is another principal cause of vision loss and the leading cause of blindness in adults 60 and older. High UV exposure at a younger age has been significantly associated with early AMD. Studies suggest that exposure to UV rays early in life is a huge factor in developing AMD. UV radiation can induce photooxidative stress in the retina and that can lead to AMD. Vision loss from AMD is irreversible. However, early detection and treatment can slow the loss.

How does the welder best protect his eyes from harmful rays?

This one is simple. To protect your eyes from harmful UV and IR rays when welding, always wear an ANSI approved welding helmet. The ANSI Z87.1 standard requires that auto-darkening helmets provide full protection against both UV and IR rays even when they are not in the darkened state. So buyers should confirm that the helmet is ANSI Z87.1 compliant before purchasing.

Keep in mind that indirect exposure to a welding arc can be harmful too. So, even if you are standing some distance away from a person welding, your eyes will still be picking up some UV rays.

Safety glasses with UV protection are the unsung hero of welding accessories. When shaded they can curtail bright light while enhancing contrast. But, even clear safety glasses can provide 100% UV protection if labeled so. Safety glasses are a must-have item when working in a welding shop.

. What should always be one of the most important reason to wear them, one that may get overlooked, is that UV rated safety glasses can spare sight from the short and long-term effects of UV damage.

UV Rays

Question: Do darker sunglasses offer better UV protection than lighter sunglasses?

Answer: No, UV protection has nothing to do with the darkness or color of a lens. As a matter of fact, dark lenses without adequate UV protection can actually be worse than no sunglasses at all. This is because dark shades cause the eye’s pupil to dilate. Which in turn increases retinal exposure to unfiltered UV rays.

What is the solution for protecting our eyes from the sun?

Of course, when welding, simply ensure that you use a helmet that is ANSI Z87.1 certified. When in close proximity to welding either continue wearing a certified helmet if very close or at least don a pair of UV protected sunglasses, prescription glasses or safety glasses if further away.

Since UV and IR rays have a cumulative effect over a lifetime, when not welding but spending time outdoors in direct sunlight, you should always wear UV protective sunglasses or prescription glasses. Especially during the hours in the middle of the day when the sun is highest in the sky. If you have children, it is never too soon to start protecting their eyes from the sun too. Either by shading with umbrellas, hats or with proper sunglasses.

What about eye damage from other causes in the welding shop?

So, what are some of the jobs performed in the welding shop besides welding?

  • Grinding including portable angle grinders and table grinders
  • Cutting, includes plasma/torch cutting, chop saw, and bandsaw cutting
  • Buffing/cleaning with a stiff wire wheel attached to an angle or bench grinder
  • Sanding with a flap wheel on an angle grinder
  • Notching pipe
  • Chipping and hammering slag

The actual list is much longer but I think you get the point. If not, the point is that if it rotates, spins, saws, melts steel, or in any way ejects particles of any kind into the air, you need eye and face protection.

OSHA states that thousands of people are blinded each year from work-related eye injuries that could have been prevented with the proper selection and use of eye and face protection. And, according to the American Academy of Ophthalmology, an estimated 90 percent of eye injuries are preventable with the use of proper safety eyewear. Even a minor injury to the cornea, like that from a small particle of dust or debris, can be painful and become a life-long issue.

What are other kinds of eye protection necessary for the welding shop?

Front and center are the lowly but extremely protective, safety glasses. Adequate safety glasses must also be certified under the same ANSI Z87.1 code as welding helmets. The same applies to all face and eye protective gear. If it’s not ANSI certified, don’t buy it or use.

Face shields are next up and come in many shapes and sizes. Remember to always wear safety glasses underneath face shields for added protection. I once saw a friend stuck right between the eyes with a wire from a wire wheel on a 7″ grinder. It went right through his face shield all the way to the bone. Since he didn’t have safety glasses on at the time, he is quite lucky that he did not lose an eye. For my review on the Uvex face shield, please click here.

Don’t be a daredevil when it comes to your eyes. To make it easier to find a pair of safety glasses and a face shield when you need them, consider having multiple sets of each in and around your work area. Many eyes get damaged every year because the job was just going to take a second or two and proper eye protection wasn’t used.

Be Safe and Marry some metal today!