Whether you’re a seasoned welder or you’re just starting your out, treating and preventing welding burns is something everyone should know. It’s one of the most common hazards welders deal with every day, and if not taken seriously, it can lead to infection or much worse.
Before we get into prevention and treatment, it’s essential to know the two different types of welding burns that can occur.
WELDING UV BURNS
UV Burns can occur when your skin becomes exposed to the Ultraviolet Radiation produced while welding. Exposure to the UV Radiation typically results in a nasty “welding sunburn.” However, exposure to UV radiation can also lead to skin cancer, eye melanoma, cataracts, welder’s eye, or more severe burns.
It’s not uncommon to find welder’s who aren’t all that concerned with being exposed to UV radiation, since in their own words, “it’s the same as being out in the Sun.” What a lot of those welder’s don’t know is, unlike being exposed to the Sun’s UV radiation, they get exposed to the full UVR spectrum.
The three types of UV radiation and their dangers include:
- UVA – UVA is the most common type of UV radiation that people are most exposed to since our ozone only absorbs about half of UVA radiation.
- UVB – UVB is less common, with our ozone absorbing about 90% of it. UVB is also a lot more dangerous than UVA. UVB exposure can result in skin cancer and skin erythema, along with being more damaging to DNA and cells.
- UVC – UVC radiation is the worst out of them all. Thankfully though, our ozone absorbs all UVC radiation. It can, however, be artificially produced through a lot of things like welding, mercury lamps, and even old tanning beds.
It’s also important to note that certain welding process produces more UV than other ones. For example, GMAW is known to create the most. More UV is also produced when using Argon as a shielding gas rather than carbon dioxide or helium.
CONTACT WELDING BURNS
Contact welding burns should be self-explanatory. These burns occur when your skin comes into contact with something hot. Sometimes your skin doesn’t even need to touch the heat source to get burnt too. Being extremely close to the heat source could be enough to cause a burn.
How To Treat Welding Burns
No matter how hard you try, there is a good chance you’re going to get burnt at least once in your welding career. Most welders will just shrug off burns and tough it out, but it is vital to identify the severity of the injury and provide proper treatment. “Toughing it out” can result in much worse problems, like an infection.
For minor burns that don’t require immediate medical attention:
- Run cool water over the burned area of skin for about 10 minutes or until the pain starts going away. Cooling the burn off immediately will help decrease pain and swelling, while also reducing the chance of damaging more tissue. DO NOT use ice or cold water. The cold may temporarily relieve the pain, but it can also damage tissue more.
- If possible, remove any jewelry near the burned area of skin before it starts to swell.
- The American Academy of Dermatology recommends applying petroleum jelly to the burned area 2-3 times daily. For very minor UV burns using Aloe Vera helps a lot too, along with just about any topical steroid.
- Wrap the burned area of skin with a sterile bandage. You want to make sure not to put too much pressure on the burn, so wrap it loosely. Covering it will help protect your skin and reduce the pain.
- If you’re still experiencing pain, over the counter medications like Aleve, Tylenol, and Advil will help a lot.
Other helpful tips include:
- DO NOT POP BLISTERS! This is very important since blisters help protect you from infections. If a blister does pop, just make sure to use water to clean the area.
- Elevating the burned area of skin can help reduce swelling and pain.
SHOULD I SEEK MEDICAL ATTENTION?
For any critical/major burns, you should seek medical attention immediately. Signs of a critical burn include:
- No pain. If a burn is terrible and you don’t feel any pain, this can mean the nerve endings are damaged. Nerve damage indicates a third-degree burn.
- Burn area larger than 3 inches.
- The burn area will look charred.
- Patches of skin that are black, white, or brown
- Burns that cover the genitals, face, hands, feet, or face.
You might need to seek medical attention if your minor burn is not healing properly. Some signs of this include:
- Increase in swelling, pain, redness, or numbness.
- Bleeding through bandages
- Bad smells are coming from pus.
- No signs of healing after four-five days
HOW TO PREVENT WELDING BURNS
Even though getting a welding burn is pretty common, they are easy to prevent. Besides using common sense, the most significant way to avoid getting burnt is by using the appropriate welding gear. It’s also important to know what to avoid or be cautious about wearing.
WHAT PROVIDES THE BEST PROTECTION?
Welding helmets are great at protecting your face, specifically your eyes. The best welding helmets will be able to hold up to the heat, along with safeguarding places you wouldn’t think about like your neck or under your chin.
Welding Hat and Caps are good at protecting places that your welding helmet doesn’t cover on your head. One example of this is your ear canals. Often you’ll have those stray sparks that could easily fall into them, and most times, a welding helmet doesn’t reach that far. Flame-resistant ear-plugs can help solve this problem as well.
Safety goggles with side windows are another great way to protect your eyes. Sometimes welders will even wear them under their welding helmets, giving them extra protection.
Leather Jackets, Welding Aprons, Bibs, or Flame-Resistant Jackets are fantastic for protecting your torso.
Heavy flame-resistant gloves should be worn to protect your hands. Just make sure that they also cover your wrists. To add further protection to your wrist, plus your whole arm, welding sleeves are recommended. You can sometimes find ones that will attach to your gloves at the wrist too, which can be very helpful.
For your feet, you should be wearing heavy-duty leather boots that go high up the ankle. To make sure no sparks fall into your boot, don’t tuck your pants into your boots. You also have the option of getting shoelace guards.
WHAT TO AVOID WEARING
- Wearing synthetic fabrics should be avoided because they can catch fire easily.
- You should avoid wearing clothing with areas that can trap sparks like cuffs or open pockets.
MORE RESOURCES ON TREATING WEDLING BURNS
Here you can find a list of some great resources with more information on how to treat burns.