Arc flash is a common occurrence for those use or work around electric arc welders. They are not fun at all, that's what anyone has experienced it will tell you.

What is a welding arc flash?

Welding arc flash is a burn of the eye ball's outer layer due to the intense ultra-violet radiation produced by electric welding arcs. Also, it can happen as a result of exposure to any electric arc, switchboard malfunctions to include. It's just the same as sunburn, but instead of your shoulders or back, it's on the eyeball. Like sunburn to other body parts, cells are killed and need replacing. The gritty feeling related to arc flashes is often because of the dead cells being shed from the eye surface (just the same as the peeling skin due to sunburn) that irritates the inside of eye lid. The eyes get puffy, red and weepy when the welder experiences a flash.

Like sunburn, there is no cure for the welding arc flash. The eye drops can ease your eyes but do nothing to address the undering problem. The welder has to wait until the healing processes of the body have finished, which can take days in serious cases.

As soon as welders are aware that they have suffered a flash, they should get medical attention. Whilst most are just mild, they can be really severe and permanently damage the eye and vision. Early medical treatment can reduce some of those more serious effects.

How to avoid welding arc flash?

Protection for welders

• Use engineering controls to guard against hazards. For instance, magnetic and clip-on shields can help lower the amount of particles, sparks, slag reaching the welder's face.

• Personal protective equipment (PPE) is necessary. Safety glasses or goggles along with helmets are needed for adequate protection.

• Wear coated safety goggles to protect the cornea from UV light.

• Always wear the welder's mask when welding. Make sure the goggles cover the eyes completely.

• Use sunglasses to protect eyes against UVA and UVB radiation. Check the label when purchasing sunglasses.

• Safety glasses and goggles need be fitted with the side shields to protect the eyes from indirect UV rays. For those that wear corrective lenses, goggles and safety glasses can be fitted with the prescription safety lenses.

• As for contact lenses, wearing contacts while welding is safe in many cases, without excessive particles, fumes, or other regulations bar the use of contacts. Still, contact lenses do not have a safety function; welding workers should wear glasses or goggles with contact lenses to ensure appropriate eye protection.

• To be efficient, goggles or safety glasses should snugly fit and be comfortable under the helmet. Flameproof skullcaps are another advisable piece of protective equipment that helps protect the worker's head and hair from heat and sparks.

• Also, necessarily, the lenses in the welder's helmet have a shade suitable for the work performed. A general rule for choosing filter lenses is to start with a shade that is too dark to see the welding zone. Then attempt lighter shades until there is one that allows a sufficient view of welding zone without being below the minimum protective shade.

• Make your workers aware of hazards in their working environment. Welder training should point out hazards and list the appropriate procedures to follow when welding. It should instruct employees on how to select the proper shade for their helmets, and the like.

• It's significant to discuss correct use and maintenance of PPE. All the items should be inspected prior to use. If lenses are pitted, cracked or scratched, they should be replaced. Stretched, twisted or knotted straps of goggle also should be replaced.

• If checklists or other documents are used for training, they are imperatively written in clear language to explain the hazard. Also, possible consequences for not obeying the standard and methods to prevent the hazard should be included.

• Welders should learn essential first aid for eye injuries so that they can be prepared if any accident occurs.

Protection for welder's helpers

Anyone that regularly works within 2m of the welding arc need be protected against eye exposure in the same way as the welder. They should, at least, have gloves, hand-held or head shield, overalls if they are required to look at the arc. Also, they should be equipped with anti-flash glasses with the side pieces to protect for the arc eye hazards. The same recommendation works for one welder that works in relative close proximate of another. Welding workers frequently expose to arcs of another welders working 1 or 2m away from them.

Protection for others

Aside from protecting the welder, employers must be mindful of those who may enter the welding areas. Signs are required to be placed in areas that employees may face a hazardous situation. Such signals should be appropriate for the potential hazard and should list any needed PPE in the area. Non-welders should also be protected by curtains, screens or shields which enclose the welding operation and help to filter welding light, sparks, particles, radiation.

Walls or partitions should be painted with matt colors for minimizing reflections and glare.

Curtains or screen can be permanently fixed or on portable frames where welding can be done at various locations in the shop. Plastic or obviously opaque textile materials will help filter out UV glare and other harmful blue-white radiation.

Most rigid polycarbonate or ordinary glass windows would reflect or absorb enough dangerous radiation to avert eye injuries to those observing the arc through the material. Still, the glare will be transmitted and can make dazzle if the windows and observers are too close – that is, closer than 3m to the arc. If such materials are to be employed for prolonged observation of the arc, the material should be confirmed to be suitable by the supplier.

If no windows or screens are possible, safety must be given by arranging that the unprotected observers should not be allowed to approach closer than 10m to the arc. At that distance, even an intentional observer that insisting at the car for 10 minutes would just be dazzled.