In reality, we can’t always expect the weather to be perfect.
When it’s some sort of “emergency”, we have to work against the classical elements to get the job done on-time. Hence, you must also know how to stay safe and alive while working with electricity in wet environments.
Let’s start with the frequently asked questions. Can you weld in the rain? Is it safe? and what’s the legal background?
Welding in the rain is possible but since rainwater can conduct electricity, you’re at the risk of getting electrically shocked. According to OSHAS standards, no regulations are saying it’s illegal but you must know it’s a neither smart or safe thing to do. If you should continue welding in inclement (wet) weather, you have to be extra cautious and follow proper safety protocol.
Over the past few years of my career, I got shocked a few times. Even though it was not due to wet conditions, I’ve heard many stories from my friends and seen what they went through.
In this article, we will discuss everything about how to keep yourself out of trouble due to these natural circumstances.
Let’s dive right in.
How can you get hurt by welding in the rain?
This is all about the basics of electrical engineering.
Under the generally dry conditions, small voltages in welding will not be able to pass current through the human body. The reason is that the metal workpiece has the least resistance compared to our skin.
But under wet conditions, it will create a special situation.
Now your body will provide a relatively low resistance path to ground. This is why sometimes you feel like tingling. A small percentage of the current tries to go through you towards the ground to complete the circuit.
As soon as you feel like this consider changing the rod or use a dry pair of gloves.
If we explain this phenomenon scientifically:
There’s something called Kirchhoff’s circuit law. This law states that:
The sum of current flowing into a node (junction) in an electrical circuit must be equal to the sum of current flowing out of it.
Which means, basically electricity will try to follow all the paths in a circuit by dividing itself to different amounts of Amperes (A) considering the resistance each path will have.
The usual path of current when welding is:
Electrode → Workpiece → Earth clamp.
But now you’re going to be a part of the circuit due to damp conditions. Since the voltages are low it’s less likely to kill you but why not avoid the risk & not get any chances?
Risks of welding in a thunderstorm
A piece of free advice for you all, “Try to avoid welding outside in a thunderstorm”. It’s not safe at all. And there are fair reasons for that. Let me explain why exactly.
Lightning strikes ⚡
A thunderstorm includes thunder, lightning and strong winds accompanied by heavy rain. Even though thunder is not capable of hurting anybody if you’re in an open area or high ground you can still get hit by a lightning strike!
This is the last thing that you can expect, a large amount of electrons discharge on yourself. So the best thing would be to pause your work and go inside where there’s protection.
Rainwater is a fairly good conductor ?
Pure (distilled) water is a poor electrical conductor with a conductivity of zero (0). However, sometimes rainwater consists of impurities which still can deliver irons to conduct electricity.
If your body comes in contact with the water that touches a part of the electrical circuit, instead of grounding through the earth “clamp” current will flow through your body.
For small tasks in moist weather, you can go for gas/oxyacetylene welding, as it is much safer and not involves electricity.
Wind can blow away shielding gas ?
In the presence of stormy wind breezes, it is almost impossible to weld along a straight line.
If you are working with TIG or MIG, strong gusts of winds are likely to blow away your shielding gas. This makes your welding arc unstable resulting in inconsistent quality of the joint. Combine all this with a heavy shower of rain and you’ll understand why welding in a thunderstorm is a BIG-NO.
If welder machine got wet due to moisture or rain
Welder machines supposed to be used in dry work environments as it involves electricity. But practically, when there are no options we have to shift a little from the general rules to get “things” done!
Let’s say you keep the welder machine in a breeze of rain or an atmosphere full of humidity. Is it safe?
Well, I think you already guessed the answer. Nope, there are risks involved but let me tell you how to lower the chances of getting electrically shocked due to that.
Always try to provide some sort of shelter to your MIG/TIG or stick welding machine. A solid roof or a plastic tent maybe a good solution. Just make sure there are no leaks in the roof directly above the machine when welding in the rain.
Also, make sure that the floor on which the machine stands is not wet. A piece of plywood or MDF board can be helpful to raise it above the mud level.
If somehow, the machine gets exposed to rain or any kind of moisture, quickly shut it down. Wipe off any kind of moisture over it with a dry piece of clothing before restarting.
Moisture in the air or humidity can affect welding
Rain is not the only thing that increases the humidity level of the atmosphere. Fog, mist, dew and even hail can create damp conditions. In foggy or misty weather, small water droplets/moisture can be attracted to the flux coating of an electrode (Especially in the low hydrogen electrodes) and the metal piece itself.
This can lead to a few common defects of weld joints known as weld cracking and porosity. You can expect the moisture level of the environment to significantly affect the quality of the final work.
Weld cracking & porosity
The presence of water in a welding arc can cause several issues. If the air is moist, the water vapors near the welding arc break down into hydrogen and oxygen gas due to heat. This may result in porosity and post-welding cracks.
One solution is to preheat the material before commencing so that you can avoid any quench cracking or hydrogen embrittlement.
To learn more about weld cracking due to moisture, refer to Chapter 12 of Welding: Principles and Applications by Larry Jeffus. You can find the article here on google books.
Body sweat cannot be neglected
It’s not the rain itself. Hot environments can also significantly threat your safety.
Welding demands a good deal of hard work. And we all know that.
Most of the time, we have to work outside under direct sunlight. To cope up with heat, our skin has a thin layer of glands called sweat glands, beneath it. These glands perspire sweat and form a thin water layer on our body to keep it cool.
In hot weather, your hands inside the welding gloves produce sweat making your gloves wet. If by any chance these wet gloves come in contact with the live wire, your days as a healthy person are long gone.
Well, I’m not saying it can kill you or electrocute yourself, but there are more chances of you being electrically shocked!
Similarly, body sweat can also make your clothes wet. You need to be extremely meticulous while handling welding equipment if your clothes are sweaty.
The times’ sweat can become dangerous
In some cases, sweat is even more dangerous than rainwater. Although sweat contains a high percentage of water, it has small amounts of salts and sugars dissolved in it that makes it a pretty good electricity conductor.
Rainwater is a fairly good electricity conductor itself. If somehow your sweat and rainwater mix, you’re going to have a bad time. The solution will have more positive and negative ions so chances of you being vulnerable will increase.
In other words, if the rainwater is not usually acidic or clean, you might get yourself lucky with getting no electric shock even if you touch the live wire with wet gloves. But touch the same wire with sweaty gloves and Ka-BOOM!
Now, let me present you with some statistics :
More than 500,000 people suffer from welding injuries each year a considerable amount due to wet conditions. With such a high ratio of accidents,
You might be wondering:
“Is it even Legal to weld in the rain?”
I know some big construction companies don’t even allow their workers to weld in unpleasant weather. However, according to OSHA standards, mentioned in 29 CFR 1926.351 and 1926.354, as well as 1926.406(c), there are no regulations mentioned in saying welding in the rain is prohibited! It says as long as you have the proper equipment and welding safety gear, you can weld.
If you are not in such a company AND an individual who has your welding shop probably you won’t even have to consider these standards. But to keep your self safe you have to have some knowledge of these.
Still, I won’t consider it a smart idea!
Precautions for welding in wet conditions
If it’s raining heavily outside, my first and foremost suggestion to fellow welders would be to postpone the project. I know you have to adhere to the deadlines. If the delay is not possible, make sure to take the following safety measures before job commencement.
1. Move indoors
If you are working on some small task, it might be feasible to move the job under some roof. I understand that this might not be possible in most cases but make it your priority step.
2. Wear proper boots and gloves
Make sure you are wearing proper welding boots and gloves. Use thick rubber gloves instead of the simple leather ones. And rubber boots to stay safe.
At times, Use a dry piece of cloth to wipe the moisture off your gloves and boots. Check your gloves for any kind of damage before starting the work. Most common failures on the gloves occur near the trapezium bone of hands.
3. Avoid standing in a water puddle
During or after rain, water often forms small puddles on the ground. If you are welding while standing in water for a long time, soon muddy water will dam up on your boots.
Chances are you may get yourself hurt if the welding floor is wet. Therefore, just refrain from standing in water puddles or even on wet mud. If you have to continue, make certain that you are wearing long and thick rubber boots.
A small solution for this is to lay sheets of plywood on the ground so your foot won’t get swallowed into these puddles. Because the last thing you want to see is covering the bottom of your truck with a layer of mud when you are on the way home.
4. Use plastic cover as a roof
You can make yourself shelter with a piece of waterproof plastic tarpaulin. If you don’t have one available, a simply fixed umbrella might do the trick.
This is because even though you’re fully covered, your vision can still get blocked by rainwater. The worst nightmare while welding in the rain is that you have to clean or wipe the lenses often to be able to see the weld.
5. Wear a raincoat
To keep your body dry, you can choose to wear a waterproof welding jacket. Do not wear one made of cotton. Either wear a leather jacket or put on a simple raincoat over your cotton/nylon jacket.
Duct taping the gloves with long sleeves and collars is also a good move to keep yourself dry in this weather.
6. Check for damage in cables and joints.
All the electric wires and joints in your setup should have proper insulation. If you find a damaged or crack on the insulation, cover the area properly with an insulated tape. Make sure that no cable immerses underwater even if it has a perfect layer of insulation on it. It might get damaged while sunk underwater, who knows?
7. Wipe off sweat
Sweat from perspiration can be very hazardous while welding. Some people sweat easily, others not often. Just make sure to wipe this sweat off your body, most importantly from your hands and arms. If your clothes are all sweaty, consider taking a break till they run dry.
8. Use a DC Voltage Source
AC voltage is about five times more dangerous than DC. If it’s pouring rain, try to use DC welding processes only. Have a look at the following video to check the effect of AC and DC voltages on the human body. You’ll understand why I am emphasizing on DC usage.
An important thing you have to remember is how to properly connect welding leads according to the application they are being used. This way you can get the expected result easily. Here’s an In-depth guide I wrote about this.
Welding in the rain involves a whole lot of hazards. Just be extremely careful and try to follow the safety guidelines I stated above.
After years of practicing welding, I can’t say I’ve not been shocked once. At some point in your career, it’s bound to happen. We are all humans and we make mistakes all the time. Not being careful or forgetting can lead us to certain mistakes we can’t revert.
In dire situations, it can even result in electrocution (death by an electrical shock). Hence, you should try to avoid arc welding in the rain. That’s the bottom line.