Industrial & marine welding will physically cripple most people by age 35 or so. True or false?

This factoid was told to me by a young industrial & marine welder in his early 20’s as the reason he wanted to get out of the business. He claimed that beyond the considerable danger from getting injured in general when welding, the damage to the lungs via inhaling toxic substances (even while using a mask), the damage to your vision over time, and the various carpal and joint injuries due to the the static positions you have to assume for extended periods of time, made it physically brutal occupation that damaged and burned people out physically.

Is this characterization true at all? Is welding (as a job) really that bad for you? Does it grind through people at a terrifying rate, and leave many people physically crippled and/or damaged by their mid 30’s who are professional welders?

I’m not in the mood to hunt for some cites, but come on.

Any job that dangerous, OSHA is gonna be in there quick saying “find a way to make this job safe or we shut you down”.

Since there are still welders, I’d assume that it is possible to do the job safely. No doubt it’s a dirty job with a lot more risk than a desk job, but if it really is crippling everyone in it then OSHA would not let it stand.

Haven’t seen any examples from my admittedly small sample.

My family owned a small steel boat construction business for 57 years (1941-1998). It wasn’t a large business, with perhaps 40 employees at its peak periods and averaging 20-25 most of the time, but a number of employees stayed for decades, welding daily, often for the majority of their shift.

This was electric-arc welding, including vertical and overhead welding and pipefitting, often in tight spaces.

None of them were “crippled or damaged by their mid 30s.” Most of them worked there until they retired.

Like any construction work, it can be physically demanding, but there’s nothing particular about welding that I’m aware of.

Growing up in the late 60s and early 70s my best friends father was a welder for Cameron Iron works and his eyes had been flashburned so many times that he had to wear sunglasses to drive at night and had a very bad case of tunnel vision because of the burns. He also had the worst smokers cough that I have ever heard come out of a someone that that was a nonsmoker.

Did he have and use safety materials, LIONsob? In many sectors, the differences in medical history of people whose main productive years were the 50s, 60s, is much worse than that of younger people due to better safety measures.

One of the most difficult parts of the supervisor’s works in construction is getting people to Wear The Damn Hat; when I go see my brother at work I can find him easily: I just look for the one guy who has his hardhat on. In most of the factories and offices I’ve worked, I’ve seen a similar attitude, from IT consultants who liked to tilt back the wheeled chair and prop their feet up on a drawer to warehouse guys whose safety harnesses had cobwebs. One of the functions of those harnesses is to allow the worker to streeeeetch and change position much more easily than without it.

The places where I’ve worked that followed safety procedures had a lot less accidents, injuries and job-related illnesses than those which didn’t. I’ve worked in places where the guys with physical jobs seemed to spend more time at physical rehab than in the factory, but they were the cobwebs-on-harnesses places; the places where people had and used safety materials (of course, they reserved their right to grumble about being uncomfortable; they/we did know that it’s better to be uncomfortably alive than dead in your best suit) had workers in good general health. And yes, that includes several welders in their 50s and 60s.

Welding is definitely a dangerous activity, but one where proper safety equipment and precautions can mitigate the hazards. The problem is that some welders find safety equipment and procedures to be a pain in the ass, and will sometimes ignore them. Wearing a proper face shield and/or goggles will prevent flash injuries, but they also interfere with vision, so sometimes they just leave it off. Local ventilation PLUS breathing apparatus will prevent inhalation of fumes, but it can be time-consuming to arrange ventilation, and SCBA can be uncomfortable, so sometimes they’ll just leave it off (sometimes, instead, they’ll wear one of those pathetic dust mask things). Many chemical hazards can be removed before work – paints, coatings, etc. – but, again, it’s a pain in the ass and it delays work, so sometimes they just leave it on.

Add to this the fact that some employers refuse to buy the right equipment for the job, or don’t do adequate safety training, or won’t enforce their own regulations, or won’t crack down on workers who ignore safety practices, and you can see why there’s such a wide disparity of outcomes.

Everytime that I saw him weld in his workshop the only safety equiptment he used was a flip-up welding hood and a fan, at work on the assembly line of a major oiltool manufacturer I can’t say.
I know from the experence of working 35 years in the manufacturing industry that OSHA compliance is considered a joke or something to be taken care of before the inspectors show up to investigate a complaint by most employers. If I had a nickel for every hour I operated a printing press that had missing safety guards /defective safety devices/interlocks in buildings with uncovered high voltage electrical panels/blocked fire exits/no sprinkler system/not enough fire extinguishers I would be rich.

Having started out as a welder, and still in plumbing/heating I must agree with the previous posts. When (and if) protocol safety procedures are used, it’s certainly not worse than many other industrial jobs. But it gets sticky pretty fast, steel welding is not too bad in a well ventilated shop with proper (overpressure) breathing apparatus, but the same weld inside a pipe or on a zinc plated and painted piece needs care and time. Many metals and their welding fumes are outright toxic (TIG or MIG on brass for example)
It all boils down to working conditions and the time available for safety (“non productive”) in the specified company.

I’m an industrial electrician and work daily with industrial welders in their fifties and sixties, so my anecdotal evidence says nope.

MY 82 yr old grandfather was a welder for close to 50 years, before that he tried to be a professional hockey player, but never made it to the big leagues.

He is in great health for his age. The only injury he can claim from welding is the loss of hearing from the noise in the site he worked. He golfs as much as he can and refuses to use a cart. His blood pressure is a little high, and they watch what they eat, but both my grandparents are in very good health for their ages.

No comparative figures, but: Keeping an eye on safety - Welding Info Center

Alot of the vocational schools will push book schooling along with the actual physical welding and its possible that their curriculum on health and safety was weighted to a short career path. Its possible that some people have health problems related to the field, but I want to see the ambient conditions before making a judgement that it was strictly welding that gave them problems.


Anecdotal: I was recently in Cairo and in some “not so great” areas. A lot of the workshops are hole-in-the-wall operations. One of these was a metalworking shop where stuff was being built using welding. The young guy was performing the welding tasks with no eye protection (not even sunglasses), no gloves, no fireproof clothes. At least he was working on the street so ventilation probably wasn’t a big deal.

Now there is a guy that is running head-on into a major disability.

The sad thing is that sometimes safety equipment is denigrated as not being “macho” among people in the trades. Somebody needs to tell them that being physically disabled makes you less of a man.

Is it possible that by “marine” welding, they mean the specific sort of underwater welding that they use to build oil rigs? Because that’s an unbelievably difficult and dangerous job, one that requires years and years of training, impeccable physical condition, and intense book smarts, and has quite a high injury rate.

That would make sense. Besides the cold, the hard physical labor, and the dangers of doing industrial stuff underwater you have the decompression aspects.

It is my understanding that lots of diving, decompression or not, can really do some long term permanent damage to the body, particularly if not done carefully/conservatively.

When I was in my late 20’s and in very good shape, I did a fair bit of scuba. All non decompression dives and conservative ones at that. Often the dives would be very low exerction as well, like fall off the boat, float around lazily for a while, then get back on the boat. Most times the next day I’d feel like somebody had given me a mild whole body beating. Probably low level damage IMO.

And another thing about deco. It varies greatly from person to person and even day to day for the same person. Do it with enough people or the same person often enough, and you’ll likely do some damage.

I remember reading (this would’ve been in the Eighties, so no cite, but IIRC it was reputable) that working as an underwater welder on offshore oil rigs is/was the most dangerous job in the world.

“damage to the lungs via inhaling toxic substances”
I don’t think he was talking about underwater welding.

Can’t be true,

or the History/Discovery/Learning/etc. Channel would have a reality show about it. :smiley:

CMC fnord!

Someone needs to tell this to the guys on TV shows like American Chopper. You could make a drinking game out of all the times they weld without using any more safety gear than squinting or doing the old “Line up the weld, turn your head, and <splat>” You wind up with a weird sunburn on one cheek and really crappy welds this way.

Adding to the anecdotes, my ex’s father was a Heliarc welder for power plants. Wherever there was a plant being built or repaired, he’d go crawl into the piping and weld it together. By the time he was 50, he’d lost color vision, and he passed on at about age 70 from lung cancer. Welding didn’t kill him. Failure to use what’s now regarded as proper personal protective equipment killed him. Of course, I have no idea if it was a situation of him saying “Aww, I don’t need this crap” or if the PPE hadn’t evolved by then.

My father’s business buys from a welding company that has many employees that have been around for 20+ years.