Avoid "arc eye" - stay in the shade and stay protected
Welding masks provide a barrier to protect workers' face and eyes from the risks of open electric arcs and flames in the risky business of welding.
The very fact that there is actually a medical condition known as "arc eye" gives you a good indication of how commonly eye injuries occur in the welding process, unless proper steps are taken to protect the worker.
Using the appropriate safety equipment for a specific type of welding process is necessary to protect the welder from unnecessary burns and eye damage associated with the following hazards:
- Heat - burns and fire
- Radiation - infrared and bright light
- Impact from flying sparks, metal spatter and slag chips
According to OSHA, three types of personal protective equipment should be used for guarding the head, face and eyes during welding processes:
- Welding masks (also referred to as welding shields)
- Welding goggles, to be worn under welding masks for added protection against impact.
- Welding helmets
Welding masks and filter lens shade numbers
Welders' eyes need to be protected from exposure to ultraviolet, infrared or bright light. To ensure that eyes are adequately protected, welding masks are fitted with filtered lenses shaded according to the amount of radiant light being produced by the welding process.
According to OSHA, the light intensity or radiation produced by welding, cutting or brazing depends on the type of welding task, the electrode size and the arc current.
You should only use welding masks that are fitted with the correct filter lens shade number. Check this OSHA guide to selecting filter lenses [PDF], which offers a complete list of welding processes and their respective lens shade number requirements for welding masks.
Welding masks come in a variety of sizes and materials; most of them have an anti-odor and anti-bacteria sweatband inside. The clear plastic eyepiece on welding masks should be scratch-resistant and fog-resistant so your vision isn't obstructed in any way.
As with other eye and face protection equipment, OSHA requires that all new welding masks comply with ANSI Z87.1-1989, the standard for face and eye protection.