Among the types of welding processes, MIG welding is the most commonly used metal joinery process around the world and is a multipurpose method that is loaded with benefits.
While other processes like TIG welding are applicable to more types of metals, MIG welding stands to be more effective on every thickness ranging from thin metal sheets to heavy-duty structural engineering plates. MIG welding requires minimal training for a worker to become a perfect welder within a few weeks. It’s a more direct process that conveniently utilizes one hand for pulling the trigger and the other hand can be left free for other things.
Once the welder learns to control the gun, they can continuously weld for more extended periods and at fast rates. This leads to cost efficiency, high productivity and quality results. Consumables related to this process are also highly available at a relatively low cost.
Seasoned welders find the MIG welding process easy to do, yet there are risks that come with it. For example, welders performing MIG welding become accustomed to working with the machines, the blazing fire and the high voltage power and they forget the silent dangers that lie within. There are several hazards welders are likely to encounter with MIG welding.
Electric shock: Electrocution, either mild or severe, is the most dangerous risk to a welder while arc welding. The process involves the consumption of live electrical circuits to melt the electrode and metal surfaces. Therefore, welders are exposed to direct electric shocks when the supply cables come in contact with the working surface. A severe shock can result in fatalities or serious injuries. Welders may also experience a secondary electric shock when they simultaneously touch parts of the welding machine or electrode circuit and the metal they are working.
Exposure to gases and fumes: Welding activities involve consumption of oxygen to convert metallic elements, and in the process, produce invisible gaseous fumes. These gases include ozone, chromium and nickel oxides, nitrogen oxides and carbon monoxide. The gases can enter respiratory organs, causing mild to severe damage, depending on the fumes. Illnesses that may arise from exposure to these hazards include pneumonia, occupational asthma, cancer from carcinogenic welding, metal fume fever, and throat and lung irritation.
Exposure to radiation: Arc welding produces a bright flare of ultraviolet light, and without the right type of welding glasses or curtains, it may result in eye problems. Such a condition includes “arc-eye,” which is not only painful but may be long lasting. The severity of eye injuries also depends on factors such as distance, angle of penetration and duration of exposure. Long-term direct contact with this light could also lead to a loss of vision.
Burns: The intense heat generated by welding arcs and molten metal is a significant risk to the body and can cause severe burns, even when the welder thinks they are at a safe distance. Burns usually happen very quickly and may occur on any body part that comes in contact with the heat. Also, hot molten metal can land on clothing and penetrate to the skin. They may even land on paper or sawdust nearby and potentially catch fire, which adds to property damage risks.
MIG safety tips
Just as in any other task involving machine work, the safety of workers should always come first. Here are some safety procedures for welders to follow when MIG welding.
Wear proper welding gloves: MIG welders have many choices when it comes to welding gloves, but it’s important to choose ones that offer good protection. The quality of the gloves should prevent molten metal from penetrating to the skin. They should also be comfortable enough so the welder can lift workpieces without the risk of burning fingers and serve as a cushion between the welder and naked electric cables.
Leather gloves are preferred as they offer excellent protection from the heat. They also shield welders from ultraviolet light produced in the welding process, which causes burns and potential cancer risks. Cotton gloves are also an option. However, one material that is not safe to use is polyester, as it tends to melt when in contact with hot material or flames.
Wear foot protection: Protecting the feet is just as important as protecting the hands when welding. It’s easy for molten metal to drop on the feet, especially when the welding is performed directly over the top of the feet. It’s recommended to always wear closed shoes that protect the feet above the ankle. The opening of the shoes should be a tight fit so sparks cannot drop inside.
Avoid open shoes, those with mesh on top and those made of synthetic material as they can easily burn and do not protect skin. Leather boots or shoes with an outer rubber sole are the best choices as they are not readily flammable and are resistant to heat, yet comfortable and offer a stable footing when welding is complex.
Wear a helmet: Besides electrocution, the welding arc is the most dangerous aspect of MIG welding. The injuries are not only severe but irreversible. The ultraviolet light from the welding arc can injure skin and burn the eyes even more severely than direct sunlight due to close proximity. A quality welding helmet repels the rays and is the preferred protection.
The best helmets feature auto-darkening glass that allows the worker to see the welding spot while keeping the bright light from reaching the eyes. At the same time, they enable the welder to see in normal lighting, which means they don’t have to remove the helmet after every weld. In addition, the helmet goes the extra mile in preventing molten metal from contacting the face and head.
Have a clean working environment: The work area should always be clean and tidy because accidental fires are a real danger when welding. This is an indirect hazard that most shops tend to ignore. The sparks from molten metal can ignite any dry matter such as plastics and papers. Welders should also ensure that flammable liquids such as petroleum are not kept near the welding area, as they can cause immense damage. Wet surfaces are also a danger as they make good conductors of electricity and contribute to short circuits and electrocution.
Ventilate the shop: Open spaces or rooms with sufficient air movement are important when welding as toxic gases and fumes need to escape the work area and not compromise the health of anyone in the facility. Welding gases are produced in smaller quantities and are usually invisible to the naked eye. However, continuous and daily welding practices can result in the accumulation of these gases in the lungs, leading to respiratory complications.
Employing ventilation strategies to prevent these gases from accumulating and using respirators when welding in confined areas is advisable for reducing exposure. For projects that require long periods of welding, working in shifts allows the welders a chance to get fresh air.
MIG welding is an old process of joinery in the metal industry but its popularity isn’t fading anytime soon, because no other method matches its accrued benefits or advantages. MIG welding is easy to learn. Even without formal training, it’s also easy to drive the gun continuously and for long periods, making it highly productive.
Despite the benefits, MIG welding has its share of cons, especially on the welder’s health and fitness. The welding method is not complicated, but its output is dangerous if not handled with care. From direct electric and circuit shocks to burns and illness, MIG welding has its risks, especially for welders who become complacent about safety. Just like any other mechanical task, MIG welding calls for adherence to safety precautions. Otherwise, the damage may be severe and irreversible.