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Don't Get Shocked While Welding! Here's What You Need to Know

Don't Get Shocked While Welding! Here's What You Need to Know

Don't Get Shocked While Welding! Here's What You Need to Know

Electricity is all around us, and we often take it for granted in our daily lives. However, when we're dealing with a welding machine that can output hundreds of amps, it's important to be aware of the dangers and potential hazards.

To start, it's important to understand how electricity affects the human body. We are conductive, meaning that electricity can pass through us, and this can have a variety of effects, such as affecting our nervous system, causing muscles to contract, and potentially affecting the function of our heart.

The amount of current that passes through us is what can be harmful, but for a current to pass through us, it needs voltage to make it move. Voltage can be thought of as the pressure in a pipe that's pushing water through, while current can be thought of as the amount of water that's flowing through the pipe. So, if there's not enough pressure, even if there's a lot of water available, not much water will flow through. It's the same with electricity flowing through us – we resist the flow of electricity, so even if a lot of current is available, it takes voltage to move it through.

The voltage that's dangerous depends on a lot of factors, such as the conditions in which you're welding and whether your skin or clothes are wet. Wet conditions can make it much more dangerous, as it makes it easier for electricity to pass through us.

Now, let's talk about how welding power supplies work. A welding power supply is designed to take the electricity that comes from your electrical service, which is typically at a higher voltage, and output a lower current. This is because a higher current and lower voltage are more effective for the welding arc.

In a good quality machine that's operating properly, the primary circuit (the electricity coming in) and the secondary circuit (what goes out for welding) are completely separate circuits, and they don't interact with each other. The primary side of things is completely insulated and held in an enclosure like any other electrical appliance that you'd work with, and this keeps you safe as long as you don't have damaged cables or rip things apart and reach inside while it's plugged in.

The voltage of the secondary circuit can vary quite a bit, and it's important to understand when it's actually live, depending on the type of machine that you have. Most MIG welders, wire feed welders, and TIG welders that have a separate amperage or trigger switch control will not be live when you're not actually welding, eliminating pretty much the whole hazard during your setup time. However, if you're dealing with a stick welder or a scratch start TIG welder, where you're set up and it's live all the time, you're going to have to be a little bit more cautious during your setup to make sure that you don't become part of the circuit.

The voltage that's present in those welders that are live all the time when you're not welding is referred to as the open circuit voltage. This can depend a lot on the type of welding power supply that you're using, and some power supplies, particularly more modern ones, will have something called a voltage reduction device (VRD) to reduce your open circuit voltage down to a low amount until you start welding, and then it will bump it up. This is done to keep you safe so that you don't have that higher voltage floating around all the time.

Unfortunately, this lower voltage for arc starting doesn't work with every electrode, and sometimes you have to have a higher open circuit voltage and turn that voltage reduction device off. This removes that layer of protection, so you need to be aware of that and it's a good idea to use it whenever you can.

When you're welding, you need to avoid creating a path for the electricity to flow through you between your work that your work clamp is hooked to and the metal on the electrode or the electrode holder. You need to think about the whole path because if you have your work clamp connected to your work, which is on a metal table that runs down, and you have a puddle of water on the floor, then you have an electric path all the way down through your part, through your table, through the water to your feet. Then all you need to do is touch that electrode holder, and you can get severely hurt. That's what you need to look out for, any kind of path that you might have between the metal on the electrode and the electrode holder and whatever your work clamp is connected to.

There are several layers of protection that you can put in place to protect yourself while welding. The first thing is to make sure that your equipment is in good repair, all of the wires are fully insulated, and the housing is in good shape and closed up. Always wear the right personal protective equipment, including good quality welding gloves without any holes or problems with them.

Next, always avoid welding in wet conditions because that can create an additional path for electricity to flow through and make it possible for lower voltages to become more hazardous. Put your electrode holder away while you're working on setup, and if your machine has a voltage reduction device to drop your open circuit voltage down, definitely use it wherever you can.

Don't take your machine apart and try to fix it and poke around in there if you're not qualified to do so, especially if the machine is plugged in. And last and most importantly, just be smart and think about the principles that we've talked about here today, and make sure that you're looking out for yourself to make sure that you're safe and you can have a great time while you're welding.

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Don't Get Shocked While Welding! Here's What You Need to Know


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