Why is underwater welding so dangerous? If you consider starting a profession in underwater welding, it is a fantastic idea! It’s a highly satisfying and rewarding profession where you can make anywhere between $100,000 and $200,000. But don’t be blinded by the dollar signs.
Before diving into this career, you need to be enlightened about the unique dangers of underwater welding and how to avoid them.
When Respecting Safety Regulations, Welding Underwater Is Not The Most Dangerous Job
OSHA reports that the annual fatality rate in the underwater welding profession is five out of approximately 3,000 professional welders. The number of fatalities is due to how welding underwater requires large and powerful equipment in an unpredictable and possibly hazardous environment.
The dangers involved are why underwater welders have first to undergo specialized training. It’s also why they get paid the big bucks. This guide has been put together to inform you about everything you need to know about staying safe on the job.
With everything you’ve heard thus far, you probably think that underwater welding is the most dangerous job in the world. The truth is it isn’t.
If you respect safety regulations, follow the rules, and be smart, you can enjoy a long and fulfilling career as an underwater welder without mishaps.
The rules and safety measures to keep underwater welders safe typically vary from employer to employer. The standards are usually determined by the specific task to perform and the specific underwater environment in which the diver will be working.
Some of the most common dangers that underwater welders face include:
- Hypothermia. It gets really cold underwater. The bigger the body of water, the colder it usually is. When your body is exposed to this cold for an extended period, it can result in hypothermia, resulting in organ failure. The best way to stay protected against such is to wear a well-insulated rubber dry suit that will protect you against the chill while you work underwater.
- The bends. It is also referred to as decompression sickness. It occurs when a diver comes up from deep water too fast. For safety reasons, it is best to gradually ascend from significant water depth to minimize the effect of a sudden change in pressure on the body. If you ascend too fast, nitrogen in the oxygen tank might bubble. When breathed in, the nitrogen will enter the bloodstream and cause memory loss, confusion, or paralysis, all of which can be deadly while underwater with welding equipment.
- Drowning. Regardless of how strong a swimmer or how experienced a diver is, the risk of drowning is an ever-present danger. Believe it or not, a diver can still drown even if wearing waterproof equipment and packing a full oxygen tank. Equipment failure, such as a faulty gauge providing inaccurate readout about the contents of the oxygen tank, can lead to a drowning accident. A diver getting tangled in underwater obstacles or their equipment lines can also result in drowning. To minimize the risk of accidental drowning, it’s crucial to check and test every part of the breathing apparatus before underwater. Nothing must be cracked, broken, or unsealed. If you notice too many bubbles escaping from your breathing apparatus or suit, head back to the surface to verify the cause while underwater. Also, always verify that the oxygen tank has enough air before diving.
- Environmental risks. Performing underwater welding in a lake, river, or pond, or a larger body of water such as the ocean will each come with its own unique set of dangers. For instance, underwater welding in the Amazon River can expose a diver to piranhas, while welding in specific seas exposes the diver to sharks’ risks. Another danger of freshwaters such as rivers is that the water current is usually strong and requires the welder to exert more energy to stay in place. If a diver tires before rising, he/she might be dragged by the current. Also, it’s usually dark underwater. The decreased visibility can make it difficult for a diver to spot and avoid plants, rocks, or debris that may tangle up equipment and endanger life.
- Risk of electrocution or explosion. Welding requires the use of electricity and flame. To anyone, the idea of working underwater with electricity is a bad one. But there are many safety measures to avoid accidents, and underwater divers are provided insulated suits that shield them against electric shock. Nonetheless, accidents such as burns and electric shocks can still happen. For example, electrocution during underwater diving can occur due to equipment failure or unforeseen accidents. The only way to avoid such is to ensure that all equipment is in good working order before diving and that the worksite is as safe as it can be.
How To Prepare To Dive And Work Safely (Preventing Underwater Welding Risks)
Statistics indicate that decompression sickness and drowning are the most common accidents for welders underwater. You can minimize the risk of falling victim to such or any other mishap while on the job by adhering to the following best practices:
1. Prevent Electric Shock
- Do not use Alternating Current (AC) to power welding equipment. Instead, use Direct Current (DC).
- Wear a rubber suit and gloves.
- Glove gauntlets must be firmly attached to the wrists to prevent anything from seeping in.
- All electrical cables must be watertight and thoroughly insulated. Exposed parts of any electrical cable or other equipment must be adequately insulated with a layer of rubber tape and scotch cote. Electrical tape should be added as a third layer for thorough insulation.
- All electrodes to be used must be verified to be waterproof and fully insulated.
- Don’t move around with a live electrode and avoid dropping it suddenly.
- Keep metallic items far away from electrodes.
- The power generator must be placed on rubber or wooden platform.
- Lighting, hand tools, and other underwater equipment that use AC power must have a ground fault interrupter attached.
- It is best to use double-pole switches. They are safer because they have both a working and ground lead that close simultaneously to interrupt current.
2. Prevent Decompression Sickness and Drowning
- Avoid ascending quickly from a deep dive.
- Don’t dive deep underwater repeatedly within a short time.
- Avoid getting on flights soon after diving.
- Stay hydrated.
- Don’t drink alcohol before diving.
- Stop work when you feel tired
- Make sure your oxygen tank is full, and your breathing apparatus is working perfectly.
3. Prevent Freezing or Hypothermia
- Wear only highly insulated scuba equipment.
- Make sure there are absolutely no tears in your drysuit and gloves.
4. Prevent Marine Life Attacks
- Before diving, verify that the area is clear of any marine life that might impede work or be a danger to divers.
Video: My First Time Welding Underwater
Is Underwater welding the most dangerous job?
No doubt, underwater welding poses a variety of unique risks. This is why training and a certain amount of courage and smarts are required to be safe and successful on the job. But it is not the most dangerous job in the world.
You’d be surprised to discover that:
- Air-conditioning and heating system installers
- Construction workers
All have a far higher fatality rate than underwater welders.
For those worried about getting electrocuted while welding, note that there is only one case on record of a welder dying during wet welding.
What is the death rate of underwater welding?
According to OSHA, the annual death rate of underwater welders is five out of approximately 3,000 professional welders.
What are the risks involved in underwater welding?
Drowning is regarded as the leading cause of death among underwater welders. The risk of decompression sickness is also high. Other less prevalent hazards include electrocution, attack by marine life, and hypothermia.
Even though underwater welding is undoubtedly risky, it is still an exciting and extremely satisfying job. The risks involved while real are more often than not blown out of proportion.
As long as you follow the rules and adhere to safety best practices, you can start a career in underwater welding and enjoy it for many years until you are ready to retire.