Arc flash is a common occurrence for those using electric arc welders or working around them. As anyone who’s had one will tell you, they’re not fun.
What is a Welding Arc Flash?
Welding arc flash is actually a burn of the outer layer of the eye ball caused by the intense ultra-violet radiation generated by electric welding arcs. It can also happen due to exposure to any electric arc including switchboard malfunctions. It’s just like sunburn, but instead of your back or shoulders or where-ever, it’s on your eyeball. Just like sunburn to other parts of your body, cells are killed and need to be replaced. The “gritty” feeling associated with arc flashes is actually the dead cells being shed from the surface of the eye (just like the peeling skin associated with sunburn) which irritates the inside of the eye lid. This is why your eyes gets “puffy” and red and weepy when you experience a flash.
Just like sunburn, there’s no cure for a welding arc flash. The eye drops your doctor gives you relieve some of the discomfort but don’t do anything to address the underlying problem. You just have to wait until the body’s healing processes have finished which can take days in severe cases.
You should always get medical attention as soon as you become aware that you’ve suffered a flash. While most are only mild they can be very severe and cause permanent damage to the eye and your vision and early medical treatment can reduce some of these more serious effects.
How to Avoid Getting a Welding Arc Flash?
Now we know what it is, how can we avoid it?
The best way is to avoid exposure to the arc flash in the first place by not being in areas where electric arc welding is happening. Obviously if you’re a welder or assisting a welder or can’t avoid being in the area then this is not possible.
The next best form of protection is placing a barrier between you and the welding process. Welding curtains or solid screens prevent the UV radiation from affecting those not directly involved in the job. Again, this is not always possible and certainly not for the person doing the welding.
As well as allowing the welder to view the arc, welding screens provide protection against damaging UV radiation and prevent arc flashes from happening. However, most arc flashes happen to those in the area and not involved in the welding process or to welders in the short period of time between striking the arc and putting the welding screen in place.
These types of flashes can be prevented through the simple means of wearing safety glasses. Modern safety glasses have lenses made from poly carbonate which absorbs up to 99% the damaging UV radiation and also protects your eyes from welding sparks and other debris that maybe flying around the place.
Additional protection can be gained by using head mounted rather than hand held welding screens and preferably those with flip-up lenses and protective clear polycarbonate screens fixed into the welding screen.
Auto darkening welding screens provide the best protection. These screens have special technology that automatically (and almost instantaneously) darkens the lens when UV radiation is detected and then clears it when the UV radiation is not present. These types of welding screens also provide much better face and head protection against damaging UV radiation and flying particles generated in the welding process.
So to recap on what to do to prevent welding arc flash:
- Don’t be in an area where electric arc welding is being performed unless you absolutely have to be there;
- If you’re welding or in the area always wear compliant safety glasses;
- If practical, use welding curtains or other types of solid screen to prevent others being affected by the welding arc;
- Always use a head mounted welding screen (and preferably an auto darkening one) when welding.
Following these relatively simple steps will prevent you from suffering the discomfort of a welding arc flash.