Last Updated on January 7, 2021 by Gary Hargrave
A job like welding involves health hazards, and therefore, you can get zapped while working. As far as an electric shock is concerned, TIG welding is a safe process since you can use a torch switch to turn the welding current ON or OFF. Nonetheless, the probability of electric shocks is not ZERO.
Your TIG welder might shock you if you replace an electrode barehanded with the transformer on. You may contact with a workpiece while it’s connected to your return cable, touch a live welding circuit, or weld on wet ground. All of these may result in shocks.
Sometimes, you need to weld a metal’s underside. If you do this while allowing yourself to lie on the floor, you may experience unwanted shocks too. So, it ultimately comes down to three causes, such as your carelessness, unsafe equipment, and hazardous work environment.
You may think my discussion so far doesn’t relate to your individual circumstances very well. So, I suggest that you reach the end of this article, and by that time, you’ll learn everything about TIG welding & electric shocks, and your workplace safety with regards to this particular hazard.
First, I would like you to understand the level of resistance of your body to electricity. Then, you’ll learn about the stages of electric shocks from TIG welding activities and the different circumstances under which you may receive these shocks.
Once you know why your TIG welding equipment shocks you, I’ll let you know how to handle those situations, and finally, I’ll familiarize you with safe practices around welding workplaces.
Topics Covered in This Article
How Can You Get Shocked While TIG Welding: Electrical Conductivity and Resistivity of Your Body
Our body water consists of two compartments, such as intracellular and extracellular fluids. These fluids are actually electrolytes and are rich in biochemical ions which make our body well conductive of current.
Many experts suggest that current at or below 5mA is not generally dangerous. Our brain can perceive a shock at 1mA and we may feel a little excitement. Muscles start contracting at 20mA, and anything higher than this may cause a loss of muscular control.
Again, our body resistance while being dry is 70 to 100 kilo-ohms, but it reduces quite drastically as the body or a part of it gets wet. A contact with 100V supply while the body is wet or damp can be as dangerous and fatal as 1000V to a dry body.
So, it is obvious that the wetness of your body while welding not only makes you vulnerable to electric shocks but also brings deadly outcomes.
120V is the common voltage in most households, and 30V is considered to be dangerous voltage. A little higher like 50V is enough to cause you fatal injuries and leave you utterly helpless against a shock.
A typical TIG welder that has been turned on but not put to use has 20V to 100V at its welding circuit and 120 volts inside. You may expect up to 575 volts or even more depending on the quality and strength of the equipment.
All of these numbers are associated with the likelihood of risks for shocks. Now, you can assess what exactly you’re likely to undergo as you start welding.
However, getting shocks from a TIG welder is not very common among those who are aware of the safety procedures. We usually receive a shock as we touch two electrically conductive objects with each having a voltage.
Welding operators experience two types of shocks, such as primary and secondary electric shocks. Now, I’ll be talking about both stages and the underlying causes along with some safety measures.
Under certain circumstances, you may get a primary electric shock. There are several components inside your welder which become electrically hot as the welder starts. A lead is a common part that you may have contact with.
Your chances to receive voltage shocks if you touch any of those components and one of your external body parts like a hand (unguarded or unprotected) is on the case of the welder or any other electrically conductive grounded metal.
Sometimes, you might be wary of any grounded metal or welder case but not enough of the electrical distribution system. Remember that the consequences can be similar. A primary shock is way more hazardous than a secondary one because the voltage can be up to 600V, starting from 115V.
Despite being milder than the one discussed above, a shock of this kind is more common than you know. The most common source of this shock is an arc welding circuit. An electrode has the highest voltage when welding is not in progress but the equipment is on.
You may experience a secondary shock as you touch any part of the electrode circuit and simultaneously another part of your body comes in contact with the ground or the specific metal being welded. Sometimes, the electrode cable may have a bare spot on it, and you may get affected by it.
Since there is a constant change in the polarity of AC or Alternating Current-voltage, it is more hazardous than DC or Direct Current. Someone who touches the wire that carries AC voltage may not be able to avert the severity of a shock.
The next question you might have in mind is what you can/should do. I must say protective clothing is the key to your measures, but the way you ground a workpiece is important too. So, I would like to help you with this before going deep into clothing and other arrangements.
How to Ground a Workpiece Correctly to Avoid Shocks?
Electricity follows the way that has the lowest level of resistance. Therefore, the ground comes into relevance. You need to have a clamp connected properly with a ground cable to ensure that the current passes from your torch through the metal workpiece to your ground without much resistance.
Try to maintain a very little distance between the clamp and the location you’re welding. If you’re using a small table, you do the clamping on its side. You may also attach the clamp to your workpiece when you’re using a large workbench or table.
How Can You Stay Protected Against Secondary Shocks?
Keep your body insulated from the workpiece. Using Personal Protective Equipment including a helmet or shield is necessary, but your safety is never good enough without the hands kept protected with welding gloves. I heard some people recommend that long-sleeved shirts are good, but I can’t show you any substantial proof that this claim stands.
Electric shocks don’t have to be inevitable in all situations because you can take these measures before starting a welding session.
- Avoid resting the body, or parts like arms and legs on the metal/workpiece.
- Use dry insulation items like plywood or rubber mats to stand upon.
- Don’t use wet clothes and/or expose your skin while working.
- Avoid touching the metal parts, especially the electrode if you don’t have gloves or your clothing is wet.
- Replace an electrode if the fiber or plastic insulation on its holder is broken because that insulation prevents any contact with the hot parts inside.
These steps should be adequate for you to stay safe but only in the event of secondary shocks. However, welding professionals have to work harder to ensure their physical safety.
How to Handle Risks of Primary Shocks?
When you’re preparing for a welding job knowing that primary shocks are not out of the picture, you should tidy up the workspace. Make sure it is not electrically hazardous. But then, you might want to know if your conditions are hazardous.
Apart from dampness or wetness, other issues might include welding while standing on metal structures or positioning yourself in a cramped position as in kneeling or lying. Try to avoid all of these limitations.
What if you can’t find a more suitable condition? With your protection in place, you can also choose a semiautomatic welder with DC constant voltage or a DC manual welder. If you have to TIG weld aluminum, you can’t help yourself, and an AC welder is the only choice. Well, there are models that feature a Reduced Voltage Control system. Choose one of those welders.
Before I conclude this discussion, I need you to focus on another point of caution. You’ll find few people who are in this job for years but never experienced any kind of electric shock. Since a secondary shock is pretty common, you may have overlooked it once or twice. But that, my friend, is not wise.
So, the next time you receive one, examine your TIG welder and work area immediately. Try to review your way around the job too. Don’t hesitate to contact your physician if something feels uneasy or wrong with parts of your body.