Welding and Cutting Hazards

Welding and cutting operations present a variety of hazards, not only to those carrying out the operation but in many instances to others in the vicinity.

Man in welding mask welding a car

In the workshop there are a number of hazards specific to welding or cutting. In addition, there may be other hazards of a more general nature present in the fabrication environment.

All potential hazards need to be identified, measured (where appropriate) and assessed. Remedial measures must be put in place wherever necessary.

Although Personal Protective Equipment (PPE) should not be issued as the primary method of reducing a hazard, it should be issued to all personnel if beneficial.

Employers and employees should be made fully aware of the dangers that can arise and take all reasonable care to ensure the health and safety of all.


Burn injury is a hazard faced by welders every working day; after all they are using a process that involves molten metal and high temperature welding arcs.

Avoidable hazards

Most burns suffered by welders and others in the welding environment are avoidable. They are often caused by carelessness or failure to take the necessary precautions.

Burns may occur to the skin or, potentially more seriously, to the eyes.

The source of the hazard may be:

  • hot metal (a welded component or part of the welding equipment such as a MIG gun nozzle)
  • arc rays
  • flames
  • chemicals
  • liquid gases

Taking the necessary safety precautions is largely common sense, although accidents may happen from time to time.

Confined Spaces

Many of the everyday hazards encountered in welding can be exacerbated if the work is being carried out in a confined space.

A significant number of deaths occur each year involving people working in confined spaces. 

Asphyxiation is a major cause of those deaths, so extra vigilance is crucial.


In any confined workspace, restricted ventilation will cause the build up of a potentially hazardous atmosphere.

An example of confined spaces would be a storage tank.  It may also contain, or have contained, toxic, flammable or hazardous substance, vapour or gas.

It is clear that working in such spaces requires a greater than normal awareness of potential hazards and increased attention to safe working practices.

Welders working in enclosed spaces must be properly trained, equipped and supervised.

Additional protective and monitoring equipment (over and above that normally necessary) may be required when welding in a confined space.

It is recommended that a formal 'safe system of work' should be followed at all times.

Electrical Safety

Electrical hazards can prove to be the most serious risks encountered by welders.

Touching 'live' electrical components, including the electrode and the workpiece, can result in a burn injury or, more seriously, electric shock.

Electric shock

Electric shock can kill, either by direct action on the body or by a resultant fall if working at height.

Most electrical accidents are avoidable and only occur as a result of carelessness, lack of training, poor workmanship or faulty equipment.

Welders must never become complacent about the hazards associated with electric arc welding.

Safe working practices should be followed at ALL times.

Eye Hazards

Eye injuries are among the most common of all injuries caused by welding and cutting.

Damage can be due to non-ionising radiation, foreign bodies, fumes and gases.


All welding arcs produce radiation.  The energy ranges in the arcs are limited so only certain wavelengths are generated.

This radiation is divided into three categories:

  1. ultraviolet (UV)
  2. visible light
  3. infrared (IR)

Of these three, UV is the most likely to cause injury as its effects are not noticed by any of the senses at the time of exposure, so the effects only become apparent later.

Foreign bodies

Welders have a high incidence of eye injury caused by foreign bodies such as slag, spatter, sparks, dust and grit.

Particulate fumes

Particulate fumes and gases can irritate or damage the eye.

It is known that conjunctivitis may be caused by dust or fume associated with welding.

Gaseous Fume

Gaseous fume is invisible fume created by the welding and cutting process.  It is often present in the workshop, but undetected.

Pollutant gases

Gaseous fume consists of either one or more specific pollutant gases mixed in the air around the welding area. As it is present in gaseous form it can easily enter the lungs.

Whether or not the fume is likely to cause damage depends largely on precisely what the gas or gases are, on the concentration inhaled and on the length of time of exposure to the specific pollutant(s).

The gases of most concern in the welding environment are ozone, oxides of nitrogen (NO and NO2), carbon monoxide, dichloro-acetyl-chloride and possibly phosgene.

Heat Stress

Working in an excessively hot environment can cause the body to overheat; this is called 'heat stress'.

Heat exhaustion

If fluids are not taken to replace those lost by sweating, heat exhaustion can occur.

Extreme cases of this condition can be fatal.

Precautions should be taken and work regimes adjusted to ensure that every worker's core body temperature is maintained within its required operating range.

Light and Heat Radiation

Electric arc welding and cutting processes produce three forms of radiation - ultra violet (UV), visible and infra red (IR).

Arc welding therefore presents a greater hazard than fuel gas processes as these only produce visible and IR radiation.

Radiation hazards

Arc welding and cutting and fuel gas processes can be damaging to unprotected skin and eyes.

Some of the injuries that can occur include 'erythema' and burning of the skin.

Eye injury

Radiation from welding arcs include eye damage including:

  • 'arc eye' (from UV radiation)
  • cataracts (from UV and IR radiation)
  • retinal burns (from both visible or IR radiation)

Of these non-ionizing types of radiation, UV is the most likely to cause injury primarily because its effects are not noticed by any of the senses at the time of exposure, they only become apparent later.

Magnetic Fields

Magnetic fields are produced by electrical equipment.

In arc welding and cutting, the magnetic fields produced may have an effect on the human body.


Electromagnetic, that is to say electrical and magnetic fields (both natural and electrically produced), exist throughout our environment and we are all exposed to them constantly.

Electric fields are produced by electric charges and measured in volts per metre (V/m) whilst magnetic fields are produced by the motion of electric charges and measured in amperes per metre (A/m).

Whether or not these fields are harmful has been a matter of debate for many years and remains largely unresolved.


Noise is, basically, unwanted sound and is arguably the most commonly experienced industrial hazard.


The human ear is sensitive and delicate and can detect very small changes in sound pressure.  Loud noise, whether continuous or intermittent, can cause permanent damage to the ear and result in hearing impairment.

Many countries have legislation in place to protect workers at risk of being exposed to dangerously loud noise.  Loud noise is usually deemed to be 85dB(A) and above.

In welding and allied industries noise levels are likely to exceed these, and it is often difficult to engineer a reduction in noise.

Hearing protection, in the form of ear plugs and ear defenders, is available from BOC.  We recommend they are worn in noisy areas if workers are to prevent themselves suffering noise-induced industrial deafness.