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.
Welding could potentialy damage your eyes, but only if you are very reckless when it comes to protecting them!
How do ultraviolet and infrared rays harm the eyes?
The worst eye burns I ever received were 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.
When you burn your eyes welding, it is called Photokeratitis. It 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.
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.
What are some other eye problems caused by UV and IR rays?
There are some other eye problems we can mention as well.
Pterygium is another potential result of UV damage and is also known as the “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
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.
Where else might Eye Damage occur in a 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 it.
Check also my best 3 welding helmets below:
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.
TIP: Read my review on the Uvex face shield.
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!
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.
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.