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Welding can be a dangerous job when you’re not careful. The Occupational Safety and Health Administration and the American Welding Society agree that welders should stay safe when welding. Part of staying safe is wearing appropriate PPE from head to toe. But because regulations and recommendations are not always followed, injuries are common among welders. Let’s reiterate the data from the Bureau of Labor Statistics: More than 500,000 cases of welding injuries are reported every year (1).
Recommended reading – Best Welding Jackets
The Purpose of Welding PPE
Welders are exposed to different types of hazards when working. Aside from irritating fumes and poisonous gases, sparks and radiation can cause injuries. Sparks can fly a few feet from the arc and land anywhere. There’s no reason why a random spark, a hot metal fragment, won’t find itself in your pocket or underneath your shirt and burn your skin. If you think this isn’t a big deal, know that the most common type of injury welders suffer from is burns. One in every four welders suffering from burns seek medical treatment. Keep in mind that sparks and spatter cause second- or third-degree burns.
The wrong type of clothing worn when welding can exacerbate burns. Synthetic fabrics, for instance, melt when they come in contact with hot, glowing debris from the arc. Burning polyester fabric drips and causes serious burns that leave ugly scars.
Also, ultraviolet radiation can cause skin burns that look and feel like sunburn. You can feel the thermal effects of being too close to the arc, but UV is insidious. You don’t see it. Your eyes and skin, however, will feel the effects a few hours later.
Situations mentioned above are some of the reasons welders wear PPE (e.g. welding helmet, jacket, gloves, chaps, and boots). Are everyday clothes enough? Can your regular cotton shirt repel spatter? Obviously, it won’t. That’s why you’re supposed to wear flame-resistant clothing. FR cotton and leather are commonly used fabrics for welding jackets.
The choices for upper body garments are welding aprons, FR shirts, or jackets. Should you wear a welding jacket, or is a leather apron enough?
The Case for Welding Jackets
A welding jacket, usually made of leather, is a basic piece of a welder’s PPE. Leather is a common material used for fire-resistant clothing. It doesn’t catch fire and protects the wearer from thermal assaults. The problem with leather is it becomes uncomfortably hot in summer. It’s also a heavy material that weighs anyone down. All these factors create discomfort and inconvenience and lead to less efficiency at work. Hence, many welders prefer fire-resistant cotton. FR cotton shirts have been a good alternative to leather jackets for so long. However, ironically, or not (depending on how you look at it), welding shirts worn under leather jackets aren’t too uncommon, especially in heavy-duty operations.
Welding jackets shouldn’t be too uncomfortable. When made with the right materials, they can provide both protection and comfort. This is why choosing quality jackets is important.
Another important factor to consider is durability. How long the jacket lasts determines whether it’s reasonable to buy it or not. Just because it’s cheap, it doesn’t mean you’re saving money. Cowhide and pigskin leather are durable materials that make leather jackets last for years.
Since price is an important deciding factor for many buyers, cheaper materials offer favorable alternatives. The next best thing is heavy denim jackets. Denim is still a high-quality material that has flame resistant properties. Flame retardant cotton is also a good alternative. These fabrics will extinguish glowing metal fragments from a violent arc. They also don’t burn readily if you accidentally aimed your torch at them. But remember that cotton treated with flame-retardant chemicals lose the coating after washing.
What about aprons?
Welding jackets and aprons are two popular upper body protective items for welders. Many welders prefer aprons to jackets because they’re more comfortable. Aprons also don’t feel as stiff as jackets, especially those made of leather. Both, nevertheless, cover the front body, although aprons can extend down to the upper legs. When it comes to offering protection, a welding jacket is always superior to an apron simply because the former offers full coverage of the upper body. That doesn’t mean that a welding jacket is the best option in all situations.
A welding apron is preferred if sparks aren’t a problem. Hence, it’s probably not a great option if you’re doing stick welding, especially overhead stick welding. Wearing a welding jacket may seem over the top, but erring on the side of caution hasn’t harmed anybody.
Do you need a welding jacket? Yes, you do. All welders who are serious in their job or craft take safety thoughtfully. Welders do have preferences. Some prefer flame-resistant shirts. Others just slap aprons on before working. Because there are cases wherein one may need a full upper body protection offered by a leather or denim jacket, investing in one isn’t a bad choice.