Tacoma, WA Workers’ Compensation Attorney
Industrial Safety and Hygiene News reports that welding is one of the more hazardous occupations across the construction industry. While welders have always had to be concerned about workplace injury from burns, electrocution and “welder’s flash” (diminished vision or blindness from the welding rods), they must now also be concerned about the toxic chemicals released from welding rods. These chemicals place many welders at risks for neurological conditions such as Parkinson’s disease, as well as lung and nerve damage. America’s workforce has more than half a million welders; regardless of whether these welders use MMA welding systems outside or GMAW welding systems inside, putting two large pieces of metal together requires a significant amount of heat.
Hot metal spatter, and welding sparks can result in second and third-degree burns, even igniting a welder’s clothing. Any time electricity is being used in an industry, the potential for electrocution is present. In fact, for underwater divers in particular, electrocution—as well as drowning—is a very real hazard, with the fatality rate for welder-divers at 40 times America’s national average. Regardless of whether a welder is engaged in hyperbaric welding underwater, or TIG welding at a factor, it is the manager’s job to explain the particular hazards of welding to all welders, as well as to ensure that OSHA’s minimum welding safety standards are in place and consistently met.
Perhaps the most common injuries associated with the welding industries is welder’s flash, which causes injury from the intense ultraviolet light produced from the arc ray. A welder who is not wearing proper eye protection, or who fails to keep a safe distance from the arc can develop welder’s flash, also known as flash burns. Welders who have welder’s flash may have a significant sensitivity to light, eyes that constantly tear, eyes that feel dry, or intense burning pain in the eyes. An eye doctor might prescribe antibiotic eye drops to prevent infection in the eyes as well as a pain killer, and possibly eye patches for the affected eye or eyes. While rare, in some cases the retina can be penetrated by the arc radiation, causing permanent eye damage, diminished vision, constant light sensitivity, and cataracts. Welder’s flash can also result in sunburn-like injuries to the skin.
A material found in welding rods, wire, and electrodes is manganese. Manganese is an element which can cause nerve damage and destroy brain cells. When welding, toxic manganese molecules can be released into the air, then inhaled by the welder. A government report on the dangers of manganese found that the nervous system is the primary target of manganese toxicity, leading to Manganism, which has symptoms similar to Parkinson’s disease, as well as dementia, ataxia, anxiety, and a “mask-like” face. Of all the welding injuries, Manganism is by far one of the most insidious, primarily because—like mesothelioma from asbestos exposure—the welder is unaware of the potential toxicity. In the later stages of Manganism, an injured welder can experience judgment impairment, speech impairment, and short-term memory loss. These symptoms may not appear for years after exposure, therefore the welder many not associate Manganism symptoms with his or her job. Brain damage from Manganism is permanent and cannot be cured or reversed.
Welding Fires and Explosions
Extreme temperatures are created by a welding arc, posing significant explosive and fire hazards. A welding arc can reach a temperature of 10,000 degrees however, the real danger is from the sparks and spatter created by the arc, which can reach up to 35 feet from the welding area. If there are flammable materials within that 35 feet, there is the potential of an explosion as well. Fire-resistant materials, such as sheet metal, or fire-resistant blankets should always be placed over any flammable materials within that 35-foot range.
Lack of Personal Protective Equipment Can Result in Serious Injury
Welders should always wear leather or flame-resistant treated cotton clothing when welding, as synthetic materials like rayon and polyester melt into the skin when exposed to extreme heat. Welding leathers are recommended, particularly when a welder is welding “out of position,” in a vertical or overhead welding situation. Even when wearing an approved welding helmet, safety glasses with side shields or goggles should also be worn to ensure no debris comes into contact with the eyes. Helmets also protect from welding sparks, heat, and electric shock. Heavy, flame-resistant gloves should always be worn to protect hands and arms from burns and electric shock (so long as the gloves are dry). Leather is a good choice for welding gloves.
Additional Safety Considerations for Welders
Welders who work in a confined space or in an elevated situation must always take additional precautions. All welders must pay close attention to their job and must work with employers and co-workers to keep the workplace safe. Broken or damaged welding equipment should never be used, and there should not be clutter or debris in the welding area. Welders are often exposed to inclement weather, including high temperatures exacerbated by the extreme heat produced by welding equipment. Indoors, welders may have to operate in awkward positions, work high off the ground, work in confined areas, or lift heavy objects while on the job—all of which increase the risk of welding injuries.e
Liability for Welding Injuries
If a welder is injured due to an unsafe worksite where the supervisor or contractor may have committed an OSHA violation, then the contractor, owner, or supervisor could be liable for the injuries. If the injury was the direct result of a lack of equipment maintenance or careless maintenance, the worksite supervisor could be held liable. If the injury was the result of defective equipment, the injured welder might have a claim against the equipment manufacturer for product liability.
If welders are being pushed hard to meet a deadline, working long hours and battling fatigue, the general contractor or project manager might be the responsible party. If you have a valid claim against one of these parties who failed to provide a safe workplace, you could be entitled to recover medical expenses, lost wages and decreased future earning capacity, pain and suffering, loss of enjoyment of life, and loss of consortium. In rare cases, punitive damages might be applicable if there was willful, reckless or particularly egregious behavior on the part of the negligent party.
How a Palace Law Personal Injury Attorney Can Help
If you have suffered a welding injury due to the negligence of another person or entity, Palace Law can help. It is important that you contact our firm as quickly as possible following your injury, to allow us the time to fully investigate your claim, within the statutes of limitations. At Palace Law, we will work hard on your behalf, fighting aggressively for the very best outcome possible. We have recovered millions of dollars in compensation for our clients, and, collectively, our attorneys have more than 100 years of experience in personal injury law. If you are injured too severely to come to us, we will come to you, whether to your home, or we will meet you at your physician’s office. At Palace Law, our attorneys are available 24 hours a day, 7 days a week; you never pay, unless we recover compensation for you. Contact a Palace Law attorney today.