A good pair of sunglasses is invaluable in protecting the eyes against UV rays and direct sunlight. Still, there are certain activities for which sunglasses are not appropriate. Viewing a solar eclipse is one of them. Welding is another. Despite comments made by a couple of TV personalities during a cricket match, welding with sunglasses as your primary means of eye protection is not advised.
TV commentators Shane Warne and Kerry O’Keefe were having a bit of fun giving cricket player Rishabh Pant grief over his shiny, oversized sunglasses with multicolored frames. They went so far as to suggest he might have bought them at a gas station. Near the end of the exchange, O’Keefe suggested they were large enough to be used for welding.
It was all in good fun. Nonetheless, O’Keefe’s remarks should not be taken as sound advice from an experienced welder. Sunglasses are better than no protection at all in a welding shop, but they do not offer adequate protection for the person doing the welding.
UV and IR Light
Welding is dangerous for the eyes because of the light it produces. In addition to what you can actually see, welding produces UV and IR light. You can see neither with the naked eye. Exposure to both can cause photokeratitis in the short term and more serious problems in the long term.
Photokeratitis is essentially eye sunburn. Just like excessive exposure to the sun can burn the skin, it can also burn the corneas. The good news is that photokeratitis is rarely permanent. The bad news is that it can still be quite painful for a few days. If you have ever had a painful sunburn, imagine that sort of pain in your eyes.
Both the visible and invisible light produced by welding can burn the corneas pretty badly. A pair of sunglasses will protect against the visible light. And because almost all modern sunglasses offer UV protection as well, there is no problem there. The real danger is the infrared light.
Sunglasses do not typically protect against infrared (there are specialty sunglasses that do) because they do not have to. Infrared light is generally not a major problem when you’re running around outdoors. It is still a big problem in a welding environment.
Wear a Welding Helmet
The best thing to do in a welding environment is wear an approved welding helmet. An approved helmet has a visor with the correct filters in it. It protects against UV rays, IR light, and the bright visible light produced by a welding arc. An approved helmet will do far more to protect a welder’s eyes than the best pair of sunglasses on the market.
As for sunglasses, Olympic Eyewear recommends the following at minimum:
- UV 400 Protection – Ultraviolet light exists at wavelengths ranging from 10 to 400 nm. A pair of sunglasses with a UV rating of 400 blocks them all. You can buy sunglasses with lower ratings, but what would be the point? Go with 400 and you won’t have to worry about UV light.
- Polarization – Although polarization doesn’t do anything to block UV or direct sunlight, it does do a particularly good job of reducing sun glare. This can make it safer to do everything from driving to skiing.
Wearing a pair of sunglasses in a welding shop is better than wearing no eye protection at all. But if you are the one doing the actual welding, don’t rely on sunglasses to protect your eyes. They will not do a very good job. Instead, wear an approved welding helmet. Your eyes will thank you for it.