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Electric Shock from Electric Welders

Shock to a welder might be assumed to be an acceptable practice due to the frequency of shocks to welders caused by improper personal protection and awareness. This belief can and has been a fatal assumption.

Many welders have suffered shocks and have only experienced an unpleasant tingle, but muscle spasms from even a mild shock may lead to a fall from a height or cause heart problems which are not readily noticeable or in certain circumstances cause death by electrocution.

  • The main causes for death or serious injury while welding are as follows:
  • Poorly maintained or badly connected equipment
  • Shock, from both the welding machine incoming power and the welding voltages.
  • Burn, from flash at the welding machine incoming power cable & connections.

When performing manual arc welding there is a significant potential for the welder to receive a shock by simultaneously touching the electrode and work piece. This is due to the fact the electrode is changed while the electrode holder is electrically live. Fuses or earth leakage contact breakers do not protect the welder from such a hazard. The potential for electrical shock increases with high-frequency welding.

Shock can be avoided by using proper welding techniques and PPE. Training welders in the electrical hazards of welding and electric welding machines is a requirement of OSHA 1910. Training will greatly reduce the myth that being shocked is an acceptable practice and it will prevent injury or death.

Factors, Which Affect The Risk And Severity Of The Shock

  • Set voltage (OCV) of the welding machine;
  • Use of alternating or direct current (ac. is 2 to 3 times more dangerous than dc)
  • Moisture from rain, perspiration, or other source;
  • How well the welder is insulated from the electrode and the work piece;
  • Which parts of the body are in contact with the work and the electrode. Current flow between the left hand and the torso is the most dangerous.
  • Whether the welder has to work in physical contact with the work piece, particularly in a cramped (kneeling, sitting or lying) position such as inside vessels, pipes, and structural components. The electrically hazardous environment does not need to be a confined space.

Work Methods To Reduce The Risk Of Shock

When a workplace hazard assessment is conducted, ensure the risk of such electric shock is considered and appropriate measures are taken to minimize the risk.

  • The use of dry, hole free welding gloves on both hands while welding, particularly when changing electrodes should be compulsory and be a written safety policy.
  • Remove stub ends immediately after welding; do not leave an electrode holder with a stub end in it.
  • Turn off the power at end of each shift or when taking a break. Do not drag live leads to the work.
  • Leather covered cushions, leather aprons, leather jackets, heat-resisting blankets should be used to cover those parts of the work piece, which the welder may contact.
  • In hot conditions the risk of electrocution is increased because of clothing and equipment being soaked in perspiration. The risk is far worse in closed environments, such as tanks or vessels. Take frequent rest periods, during which time dry off equipment and clothing. Frequently change or alternate gloves and protective clothing to avoid perspiration accumulating. Ventilate or if possible air-condition the work air. Ventilation will help dry perspiration and cool the body. Cool the face with an air mask. If clothing (including gloves) becomes soaked with perspiration, it must be changed.
  • If it is not possible to keep it dry, the environment must be considered extremely dangerous. Either a voltage limited welding power source should be used, or a contactor switch on the torch should control the power.

Equipment Checks to Avoid Shock

  • Never attempt disconnecting of power receptacle when the main disconnect switch is on (energized).
  • Inspect the welding leads a prior to use to ensure that the insulation is not damaged and that the conductor is not exposed.
  • Ensure the welding leads are connected to the welding machine by a male plug and that the female portion of the connector is the energized part of the set.
  • Ensure the welding lead connection points on the welding machine are shielded to avoid accidental contact with exposed terminals.
  • Turn off welding machine in some cases until the welder is in position to make a weld. (In cases where the welder must lie/lean on a grounded surface to perform a welding task another person should start the machine when the welder is ready to strike an arc and begin the task.)
  • Eliminate the possibility of partially exposing a connection while pulling the leads; male and female connectors of welding leads may need to be taped or otherwise restrained form separating. Welding leads should not be tied in a knot.
  • Inspect rod holders for cracked or broken insulated covers, discard or repair insulation if found defective.

Mike Holt's Comment: I don't know the source of this paper, but felt it might be useful to you.

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