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Are safety glasses enough to protect you from welder's flash?

Are safety glasses enough to protect you from welder's flash?

Posted on Monday, 12 February 2018 by Gus Broomhall
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Let's face it - no one wants to experience welder's flash. If you're lucky/smart enough to have avoided the experience so far, imagine the dry burning sensation you get from severe, skin peeling sunburn - but in your eyes. The answer to avoiding welding arc flash is to protect your eyes - but are safety glasses enough?

What is welder's flash?

Without going into too much unnecessary detail, welder's flash or arc eye is a burn of the outer layer of your eye ball caused by the intense ultra-violet radiation that occurs when a welding arc is generated. So the analogy between arc eye and sunburn is actually quite relevant.

What are the symptoms?

You may not notice any symptoms for a few hours after exposure to the UV light, but once you do, you'll never want to experience them again...

Common symptoms include:
  • Pain! Depending on your level of eye ball burn this can range from a mild feeling of pressure in the eyes to intense pain requiring pain relief and treatment.
  • Puffy, red eyes caused from tearing of the eye and membranes around the eye.
  • A gritty sensation like having dry, sandy eyes.
  • An abnormal sensitivity to light or inability to look at light sources.

How long does it last?

Luckily symptoms should clear up within 24-72 hours, however just like sunburn, the more it happens, the higher the likelihood of permanent damage such as cataracts.

While there is no cure for welder's flash, a trip to the doctor is always recommended. This should earn you some eye drops to lessen any discomfort. Other than that, be prepared to wear sunglasses for at least the next 24 hours or stay in a dark room away from the light.

Who can get welder's flash?

It is important to note that is it NOT just those directly involved in the welding job that can get welder's flash. Anyone who is in the general area where welding is taking place can be exposed to the arc light that causes welder's flash if precautions are not taken.

What protection do I need to prevent welder's flash?

If you're not directly involved in the welding process, but work in an area where welding is going on you should ALWAYS have safety glasses on at a minimum. Even clear safety glasses will usually provide some form of UV protection, but Shade 5 is what you need when working in close proximity to welding.

It's recommended that workshops take measures to protect workers by having welding jobs in a separate area, or putting up welding screens which provide protection against damaging UV radiation and prevent arc flashes from happening. However this only protects those who are not directly involved.

Anyone directly involved in the welding process needs to wear a face shield with Shade 5 lens, or preferably an auto-darkening lens or auto-darkening helmet. Being closer to the arc, welders need stronger protection that will cover them from any angle. A good auto-darkening helmet is recommended as they can automatically detect an arc being formed, and will almost instantaneously darken the lens accordingly. They also provide much better face and head protection not only against UV radiation, but also against impact from flying particles.

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