Common Injuries In Welding And Metal Fabrication 2022

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According to the US Bureau of Labor Statists, there were reported 2.8 million nonfatal workplace injuries and illnesses in 2021.

In 2019, the incidence rate of total recordable cases (TRC) in private industry was 2.8 cases per 100 full-time equivalent (FTE) workers reported in 2018 and 2017.

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As for the welding, Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) reports 6,030 nonfatal welding injuries and illnesses, where workers spent at least one day away from work.

What are the causes of welding accidents?

One of the most common causes of welding accidents is inattentiveness or misunderstanding of safety measures. For example, workers usually ignore personal protective equipment, and noise or other distractions can interfere with welder concentration.

Welding is a hazardous occupation since there is always a risk from exposure to fumes, electrical shock, fires and explosions, optical hazards, hot metals. In addition, working in challenging work environments can cause different accidents.

Keep in mind that even welding professionals can suffer a painful injury, as there are unique hazards related to various work processes. Here are some of the most common hazards metalworkers face every day.

Sometimes the accident doesn’t have to be directly involved with welding. For example, this video shows a steel pipe being cut and internal stresses released in a powerful manner, injuring the worker.

Exposure to fumes and gases

Due to melting metals and the coating of electrodes, welders are exposed to various toxic fumes. The damage welding fumes and toxic substances can depend on the base element, structure, and length of exposure.

Some of the most harmful gases are:

  • Aluminum 
  • Arsenic
  • Beryllium
  • Lead 
  • Manganese
image of welding fumes

In addition, metal fabrication workers are working with potentially toxic chemicals. Short-term exposure can cause minor problems, such as metallic welding fume fever, but long-term exposure can be fatal.

One of the best ways to protect yourself from dangerous welding fumes is by using HEPA filtered PAPR respirators. We have a list of recommended PAPR welding systems in our other article, and we suggest you take a look at it if you weld coated metal.

Electrical shock

There is a potential risk of electrocution whenever you work with a piece of high voltage equipment, especially welding machines. In addition, the welding process uses live electrical circuits to create the welding arc and a pool of molten metal.

There are two types of electrical shock: primary and secondary shock.

Primary electric shock can be lethal since it occurs at high voltages. Primary shock occurs once you touch the welding machine components and grounded metal at the same time.

Secondary electric shock appears at a lower voltage once you touch the electrode circuit. This is a more common incident, but keep in mind that it might cause serious damage.

Fires and explosions

Even though metal fabrication workers work at high temperatures, high heat is not the leading cause of fire and explosions. Instead, fire and explosions are caused by the sparks that fly around the workplace.

You should make sure sparks don’t get in contact with flammable materials around your workshop. Keep in mind that sometimes, you might need to remove all the combustible materials from 35 ft around your place of work.

Optical hazards

Metal fabrication workers, primarily welders, are exposed to various types of radiation. Keep in mind that even small doses can cause severe eye injuries and skin burns. Workers are exposed to UV, IR, and Visible radiation.

Visible and Infrared radiation usually doesn’t cause severe damage, but Ultraviolet light emitted can be extremely dangerous.

image of a welder performing a TIG weld on a pipe

You can reduce the exposure by wearing proper PPE, including welding helmets, jackets, and pants, to help you cover all the skin, including the neck. Ignoring the safety measures can cause painful injuries or even blindness.

Please refer to our separate article on how to choose a welding helmet. There are multiple aspects you have to consider for your hood like viewing size, number of sensors, response time, TIG rating, and others.

Difficult work environments

Welding sometimes includes working under challenging environments, including cramped and twisty spaces, beams, or other structures that need to be fused. As dangerous as it is, welding is usually related to more acute injuries. Yet, the most common injuries can occur while working in uncomfortable positions for extended periods.

Repetitive strain injuries usually affect the joints of people who repeatedly do work involving lifting, force, vibrations, and awkward positions, all of which are common in metalworking. They don’t develop overnight, but soon enough, you’ll notice the first symptoms.

image of welders welding a pipe

You can prevent repetitive strain injuries by maintaining good posture, regularly varying how you do your work. In addition, make sure you have sufficient physical conditioning so you can work efficiently in confined spaces.

In our article about metal fabrication safety, we covered multiple factors of ensuring safety in a work environment, and we suggest giving it a read.

Hot metal

Metalworkers are dealing with hot metals on daily basis. Sheet metal, machine parts, and metalwork pieces can get hot quickly. Sheet metal is highly conductive, and large sheets heat up pretty quickly. Workers move a lot of metal around job sites. Often metal that has been cooking under the hot sun.

Handling hot objects should be done with caution. There are special gloves with increased conductive heat resistance, which will significantly increase your safety. Experts classify glove performance based on the surface temperature.

image of heat resistant gloves

There are many factors for determining the needed protection when handling hot objects. You should consider the weight of the object, the dexterity required and handling time. Burns, exposure to hot metal can be relatively common for metalworkers.

Top 10 Welding Accidents 

The risks welders are exposed every day can lead to life-altering injuries or have fatal results. Welding requires a set of particular skills, quick thinking, and enormous concentration. Out of 880,000 injured welders, here are some of the most common welding injuries:

  • Electrical shocks and burns
  • Severe burns that can be life-threatening
  • Lung damage
  • Brain damage
  • Nerve damage
  • Skin lacerations
  • Eye injuries
  • Musculoskeletal injuries
  • Crushed toes and fingers
  • Welders’ Parkinson’s Disease

Other metal fabrication injuries

Mostly metal is the main component of most metal fabrication operations. For example, over 56,000 workers are assembling and fabricating in the structural metal manufacturing sub-industry. 

Workers are usually required to lift heavy materials, and that’s where some of the accidents occur. In addition, there are frequent examples where excess sharp metal materials can cause cuts or scrapes. You should also be aware of conveyor belts injuries and make sure you don’t get entangled in your equipment.

Poor Machine Guarding Injuries

To increase the safety of specific work areas in a metal fabrication shop, you should install proper guardrails or other barriers.

They will prevent accidental entry, which is especially important once you are working. Staying safe from extremely sharp metal and other metal parts is a critical part of everyday safety.

There are several categories of safety barriers, which put you out of danger:

image of safety guard rails
Image of properly installed safety guard rails, source: saferack.com

Fixed barrier: protects the machines and equipment that doesn’t require an often maintenance

Interlocked physical barrier: Once the barrier is triggered, one moveable segment will automatically shut down the system

The physical barrier: is used to cover the dangerous components of a machine. Only qualified personnel should access or remove them.

Presence sensing system: The barrier itself has a photoelectric sensor that detects the proximity to a dangerous area.

If there are no safety guards installed around or improper modifications, there is a significantly increased risk of workplace accidents. Poorly maintained or non-existent guards are the most common causes of barrier-related injuries. For example, if no presence sensing system detects metalworkers’ hands, the press can, with relative ease, take them out. In addition, when there’s unguarded machinery, flying debris can cause serious eye injuries or easily scrape your hands.

Metal Handling Injuries

Material handling has a high risk of injury in the workplace. Most handling injuries range from minor sprains to more serious musculoskeletal-related injuries, just as intervertebral disc injury.

In most cases, pain occurs in joints, muscles, ligaments, and nerves of the back, arms, abdomen, and legs. In addition, long-term damage may develop in the form of a repetitive strain injury (RSI), occupational overuse syndrome (OOS), or cumulative trauma disorder (CTD).

You can always check out the CDC ergonomic guidelines to improve your manual material handling. Repetitive strain injuries can make injured workers permanently unable to do their former line of job or lose time, yet they are easily preventable.

Hand Tool Usage Injuries

Using hand tools can cause many injuries and innumerable near accidents. The most common ones are carpal tunnel syndrome, wrist tendonitis, repetitive strain syndrome, rotator cuff syndrome, and chronic disorders of the hand, wrist, and forearm.

Power tools, such as band saws, grinders, drill presses, are also dangerous as flying metal fragments and other debris can be kicked back from the grinding wheel or another part of the machine and easily injury your eyes.

image of an angle grinder

In addition, continuous vibration can be bad for a worker’s posture, so you have to handle materials properly.

Keep in mind that welders require adequate ventilation to work correctly. In addition, toxic substances and chemical splashes can cause some acute injuries.

How to avoid welding injuries

To prevent serious injuries in the metal fabrication process, you should follow safety protocols. Supervisors should hold safety seminars implying the importance of safety measures pretty often.

Keep in mind that specific procedures will reduce the risk of accidents in the area with numerous hazards. In addition, constant exposure can be fatal and even cause death.

Guidelines of workplace safety that reduce injuries are:

image of a worker laying a weld
  • Limited or controlled exposure
  • A clean and organized workplace that reduces contact with dangerous equipment
  • Adjustable workstations made to fit various employees and tasks
  • Focus on personal surroundings

In Closing

Long story short, the best way to reduce injuries in metal fabrication shops is to use effective lifting methods, proper ventilation systems, and provide training. Workers should use forklifts, cranes, and trolleys while unloading or loading metalwork pieces.

To reduce serious risk, shop managers should provide protective gear, including appropriate eye protection, respirators, ear guards, and gloves. Respirators are crucial for keeping the dust out of the air, and ear guards protect you from hearing loss.

To avoid particular hazards, metal fabricators should always inspect potentially dangerous pieces of machinery. Likewise, machine shop workers should choose hand tools with ergonomic design, but also make sure it is the right tool for the required job.

Keep in mind that the workplace should always have enough light. Also, avoid extreme temperatures and make sure you wear clothes that will prevent serious cuts and abrasions of bare skin.

A metal fabrication shop and metalworking industry can be a safe place for workers by following safety protocols.

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Adam Mason

Welder by trade for a decade and more. Now also a web designer and a blog owner. Doing product reviews and writing blogs about welding trade and perks and minuses of being a welder.

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