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Eye protection
  • Welding, cutting, and brazing pose a variety of eye hazards and require thorough, well-chosen eye protection.

Eye injuries are a major concern around welding, cutting, and brazing operations, due to the variety of hazards related to this type of work. The following table lists potential eye hazards and their sources:

Type of hazardPotential sources
ImpactOperations that create flying objects or particles, such as caulking, chiseling, grinding, hammering, and metal working
Dust, powder, fume, and mistScaling, light grinding, spot welding, and woodworking
Gas, vapor, liquid, or metal splashBabbitting, casting of hot metal, dripping in hot metal baths, and working with acids/caustics and vapors
ElectricalArcing and sparks
Thermal and radiationWelding, metal cutting, exposure to laser beams, and working with ultraviolet light and infrared radiation
Eye discomfort and fatigueGlare from the sun
Eye injuries are preventable if proper eye protection is used. This includes:

  • Machine guarding: Because machinery and equipment can be a major source of impact and splash hazards, many come with guards/screens/shields.
  • Lighting and ventilation: Proper lighting allows workers to see their work clearly, thus reducing glare and eye strain. Proper ventilation carries away flying debris, fumes, vapors, and dust.
  • Eye protection devices: Employers must provide necessary eye protection devices (not including sunglasses) for hazards capable of causing injury to or impairment of the eye. Common types of eye protection include safety glasses with side protection, goggles, welding goggles, face shields, and welding helmets.

Requirements for eye protection devices

Because of workplace hazards, the Occupational Safety & Health Administration (OSHA) requires appropriate eye protection to be used to guard against injury in situations where it is reasonable to assume an injury could occur.

Eye protection devices must:

  • Comply with the 2010, 2003, or 1989 (R-1998) editions of American National Standards Institute (ANSI) Z87.1, or be at least as effective as a device constructed in line with those ANSI editions;
  • Provide adequate protection;
  • Be reasonably comfortable;
  • Fit snugly so as not to interfere with the movement of the wearer;
  • Be durable; and
  • Be capable of being disinfected and cleaned.

For workers who wear prescription lenses, the employer may offer eye protection that:

  • Incorporates the prescription into the eye protection, or
  • Is worn over prescription lenses in a way that allows both the prescription lenses and the eye protection to be properly placed.

Protection for welders

Welders must wear safety glasses in addition to a face shield or helmet. This is because the shield or helmet protects the wearer from the welding glare, but not from sparks.

All filter lenses and plates must meet the test for transmission of radiant energy prescribed in ANSI Standard Z 87.1, “Practice for Occupational and Educational Eye and Face Protection.”

The desirable darkness of the lenses on welding helmets and safety goggles depends on work conditions. The intensity of light or radiant energy produced by welding, cutting, or brazing operations varies according to a number of factors, including:

  • The task producing the light,
  • The electrode size, and
  • The arc current.

Choosing appropriate lenses for employees who are exposed to intense radiant energy has two steps:

  1. Begin by selecting a shade too dark to see the welding zone.
  2. Try progressively lighter shades until finding one that allows a sufficient view of the welding zone without going below the minimum protective shade.

1926.102(c) Protection against radiant energy — (1) Selection of shade numbers for welding filter. Table E-1 shall be used as a guide for the selection of the proper shade numbers of filter lenses or plates used in welding. Shades more dense than those listed may be used to suit the individual's needs.

Table E-1—Filter Lens Shade Numbers for Protection Against Radiant Energy

Shielded metal-arc welding 1/16-, 3/32-, 1/8-, 5/32-inch diameter electrodes10
Gas-shielded arc welding (nonferrous) 1/16-, 3/32-, 1/8-, 5/32-inch diameter electrodes11
Gas-shielded arc welding (ferrous) 1/16-, 3/32-, 1/8-, 5/32-inch diameter electrodes12
Shielded metal-arc welding 3/16-, 7/32-, 1/4-inch diameter electrodes12
5/16-, 3/8-inch diameter electrodes14
Atomic hydrogen welding10-14
Carbon-arc welding14
Torch brazing3 or 4
Light cutting, up to 1 inch3 or 4
Medium cutting, 1 inch to 6 inches4 or 5
Heavy cutting, over 6 inches5 or 6
Gas welding (light), up to 1/8-inch4 or 5
Gas welding (medium), 1/8-inch to 1/2-inch5 or 6
Gas welding (heavy), over 1/2-inch6 or 8
Minimum eye protection

Workers who walk through or work in areas where welding is being done aren’t exposed to the same level of hazards as the welders themselves, but their eyes still need protecting. OSHA’s preference is for welding to be secluded from other workers, rather than other workers to protect themselves from welding.

At 1910.252(b)(2)(iii), “Protection from arc welding rays,” OSHA says that “Where the work permits, the welder should be enclosed in an individual booth painted with a finish of low reflectivity such as zinc oxide (an important factor for absorbing ultraviolet radiations) and lamp black, or shall be enclosed with non-combustible screens similarly painted. Booths and screens shall permit circulation of air at floor level.”

However, the regulation continues, “Workers or other persons adjacent to the welding areas shall be protected from the rays by noncombustible or flame-proof screens or shields or shall be required to wear appropriate goggles."

Safe working practices

Wisely chosen work practices can minimize hazards and sometimes prevent them entirely. Practices that allow for eye protection include the following:

  • Recognizing activities that may expose the eyes to hazards;
  • Always using eye protection when it may be needed;
  • Never using ordinary prescription glasses as eye protection;
  • Inspecting eye protectors frequently for:
    • Properly snug fit;
    • Cleanliness; and
    • Damage such as pits, cracks, and scratches;
  • Knowing where emergency eyewash stations are located and how they work; and
  • Seeking medical attention for injuries to the eye.