Is Electric Shock Really An Issue In Welding?

For some welders, small electric shocks can be common occurrences. It begins to seem like a bunch of kids playing with an electrical fence. Sure it doesn’t feel great, but there doesn’t seem to be any serious consequences. Soon electric shock begins to feel more like an inconvenience than a danger you should take serious. This has led some welders to believe that electrocution isn’t much of a concern. There’s even a few welders that will go as far as saying that a welding machine doesn’t have enough electrical power to actually harm you. Are they right? What are the real facts behind electric shock when welding?

What Happens When You Get Shocked?

Electricity is mainly measured by volts, amps and ohms (resistance). Often an analogy with plumbing pipes is used to explain these 3 measurements: Voltage is the water pressure, amps are the flow rate of the water and ohms are the size of the pipes. However, when it comes to welding, the main focus is on volts and amps. But ohms (resistance) actually plays an important role when it comes to electric shock. For instance, the resistance of someone with dry skin is around 100,000 ohms. But wet skin only provides about 1,000 ohms of resistance, meaning electric shock can be a lot more serious if you’re wet.

When you’re shocked, the electrons in your body move in ways they weren’t meant to, creating a current. As this current travels through your body, it creates heat which can cause damage to your tissues (burns). But our bodies also produce their own electrical signals in order to function, for instance, the signals that tell your heart to beat. When shocked, a current can travel through your heart, essentially throwing off the electrical signals that tell your heart when to beat. This is often why cardiac arrest is associated with electrical shock.

Do Welding Machines Have Enough Electrical Power To Cause A Problem?

There’s 2 classifications of shock you can receive while welding. Primary shock happens when you touch a “hot component” inside the welding machine while touching the welding case or other grounded metal. Depending on your specific machine, primary shock involves anywhere from 110 volts to 600 volts or more. The second type is known as secondary shock. This is when you touch a part of the welding or electrode circuit. Since secondary shock doesn’t have to consist of tinkering inside your welding machine while it’s on, it tends to be a more common occurrence. That’s somewhat fortunate (in comparison) because primary shock has quite a bit more potential to mess up your weekend (or life) than secondary shock.

But can either of these types of shock kill you? The argument is that many consumer welding machines run off your average 120 volt home outlet and that 120 volts is not enough to kill you. The truth is, that all depends on your resistance and other similar factors. As we mentioned, dry skin offers quite a bit of resistance meaning you would most likely survive a 120 volt shock. But in other conditions, according to electrical experts, 50 volts or even less can be enough to injure or kill you. In fact, a 1999 US Navy safety publication described an incident where a sailor was killed by a 9 volt battery when the current traveled through his bloodstream and to his heart.

So What?

Alright, so electric shock isn’t something we can just ignore. But what can we do about it? Each year, thousands of welders are injured trying to operate or repair malfunctioning equipment. It seems understandable. Welding equipment can be an investment, so when it gets old and stops working properly, it can be difficult to move on. But it’s not worth your life. In fact, there’s a plethora of good deals going on right now if you’re needing a new machine. So if you’re finding yourself being shocked semi-frequently, you at least owe it to yourself to check out the current sales here.