Welding arc flash is a burn of the outer layers of the eyeball caused by the intense ultra-violet radiation generated by welding. A common cause of arc flashes in the industrial industry is when someone looks directly at the welding area without wearing protective eye gear. Directly looking at the UV radiation generated by the electric welding arcs causes a painful inflammation of the cornea. This is commonly referred to as ‘welder’s eye’ or ‘arc eye.’
Basically, welding arc flash is like sunburn on your eyes. Like sunburn, cells are killed and need to be replaced. Someone with this type of eye injury will experience a “gritty” feeling in their injured eye. This is due to the dead cells being shed from the surface of the eye, which irritates the inside of the eyelid.
The best way to avoid exposure to arc flash is by placing a barrier between humans and the welding area. The barriers will be different for a non-welder than they will be for someone who is actually welding.
For non-welders, a welding curtain protects them from the welding area. A welding curtain is a screen, curtain, or shield that encloses the welding operation and filters welding light radiation, sparks, and particles to anyone in the general vicinity. This is only suitable protection for someone who is not welding and is outside of the welding area but it is very effective for anyone who is in the welding vicinity but not actually welding.
For someone directly in the welding area, eye protection is mandatory. The best eye protection is actually a welder’s helmet. A welder’s helmet covers a welder’s face to protect from sparks and flying materials. It has a special darkened eye shield to prevent the cornea from being damaged by ultraviolet light. Every welding helmet includes a lens shade through which the welder looks. The lens shade is heavily darkened and is a polarized lens that only lets in a certain amount of light. Because it is so dark, often the operator cannot see anything other than the actual welding. The remedy for this is auto-darkening welding helmets. These automatically darken when light from the weld begins to flash. When welding light is not flashing, the lens shade automatically lightens so the welder can see the environment. A light sensor on the helmet indicates when the light shade should darken or lighten. All welding helmets should be inspected regularly to insure there are no cracks in the lens shade that will expose eyes to UV light.
Although welding can be interesting to watch, it is important to wear protective eye gear before observing a welder at work in order to avoid eye injury.
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