Welding is inherently a hazardous occupation due to exposure to extreme heat, sparks, slag, fumes, UV radiation and sharp metal. Understandably, the job requires the right personal protection equipment (PPE) to minimize safety risks, maximize worker productivity and optimize the quality of the weld. In many circumstances, the welder may need proper PPE to protect them from other jobs, as well, such as grinding.
When it comes to welding protection, there are many choices. But not all welding applications are the same, and they can vary greatly in the levels of protection required. Therefore, it’s important to select the right protection for the type of work being done to reduce safety hazards. Compromising on safety can result in a variety of welder injuries and lead to poor quality and decreased productivity.
To address the growing variety of welder needs, PPE manufacturers are developing more options than ever before. For two key pieces of welder gear – their welding jacket and gloves – various features have emerged through the recent years that address true overall performance. These include cut resistance, fit and comfort, dexterity and durability.
“Cut protection for welding gloves is becoming more of a focus,” says Jim Huebner, marketing channel manager for welding, Protective Industrial Products Inc. (PIP).
Trends in gloves
PIP and other welding glove manufacturers are moving away from a one-size-fits-all mentality and toward improving the traditional welding glove design. Today’s styles are focused on the welding process as well as the material and design, which includes comfort, fit, performance and durability.
No matter the style, there are several characteristics that welding gloves must have. Perhaps most understood, welding gloves should be insulated and provide heat resistance based on the type of welding being done.
Specifically, adding leather wear patches on fingers and palms increases durability but also provides various levels of protection and comfort. An example includes extra reinforcement to provide cut protection and durability for high wear areas such as the palm, side and back of the hand. PIP offers welding gloves with an added liner for cut protection.
As mentioned, the welding process greatly affects the levels of protection required. For gloves, “the stick welding application is hot and dirty, so the welder needs a glove with greater heat resistance and overall durability,” Huebner says. “TIG welding requires more dexterity and tactile sensitivity so the gloves are typically made of much thinner, softer material. Gloves with extended cuffs provide additional protection from heat and spatter during stick and MIG welding applications. The added bonus is they don’t have to wear a separate sleeve since it’s all integrated.”
PIP’s base level offering for welding safety products is the Ironcat brand, and the premium Caiman brand is also available. PIP acquired Primax Mfg. & Trading Inc. in 2020, which included its innovative Caiman brand.
“Most of the gloves out there are very primitive,” Huebner says. “It’s just a few pieces of leather sewn together in the same pattern for more than 70 years, which results in a big and bulky flat design. These traditional designs do not conform to the hand. But in recent years, there’s been more focus on three-dimensional designs. Caiman incorporates a 3-D design that fits more to the curvature and shape of the hand, resulting in better fit, dexterity and comfort. When people put on a Caiman glove, they immediately notice a difference.”
Huebner advises welders to consider choosing gloves such as Caiman because of the versatility. The gloves can be suitable for performing other metal fabrication tasks beyond welding.
“Some welding gloves are so heavy, you have to remove them to do a different task,” he says.
Trends in jackets
Protective welding jackets help shield welders from heat and sparks. Jackets should fit the arm length (shoulder to wrist) and torso (neck to waist). The welder should feel comfortable and protected. They don’t have to give up one for the other.
Like welding gloves, jackets come in various styles and materials for different welding applications. Jackets should be made with flame-resistant (FR) fabrics that maintain their protective features through repeated exposure. FR cotton is relatively inexpensive, lightweight and breathable for a good combination of protection, cost and welder comfort. However, this type of jacket can’t provide enough protection for every welding application.
Leather has long been considered the best protective material for welding. The relative thickness of leather prevents heat from penetrating the clothing and provides excellent abrasion and puncture resistance. There are many different cuts and grades of leather, all of which can impact the jacket’s quality and cost as well as the welder’s comfort and mobility.
“A unique aspect of the Caiman line is that it features boarhide,” Huebner says. “Boarhide leather has very tight, fine fibers that are more puncture- and heat-resistant than cowhide. Cowhide is thick and heavy, and there’s limited elasticity and breathability. Boarhide is a lot more comfortable, durable and lighter for enhanced mobility and breathability. You might think this would mean compromising and losing some of the abrasion and heat resistance from cowhide, but that’s not the case.”
Huebner says PIP has been trying to get the boarhide message out to the industry and that the company is motivated to educate welders to consider this alternative based on the benefits it offers.
“Welders tend to use what they have always used,” he says, “so we encourage them to try something different. Added design elements have proven that this particular jacket or glove is more comfortable, provides more dexterity and improves productivity.”
Also, like gloves, garments can feature multiple types of materials strategically placed in certain areas. A good example is using leather on the sleeves so the welder has a bit more protection against heat and spatter while using FR cotton on the torso that provides lightweight comfort.
Protection for all
There are more options beyond jackets and gloves for safe welding, of course. Aprons, bib aprons, chaps and pants, cape sleeves and sleeves are all in the welder’s wardrobe. Curtains and blankets are also available in a variety of materials and styles to protect the workspace. Other PPE includes earplugs for protection against hearing loss and safety glasses with anti-fog coating.
PIP has had a rich history in PPE since its founding in 1984, starting with hand protection. Since then, the company has grown its product offering significantly and today has more than 20,000 products globally, selling directly through distribution.
“We have a significant North American manufacturing presence along with overseas manufacturing facilities,” says Amanda Kwiecien, senior marketing communication manager for PIP. “That’s a big advantage for our company. We’re not importers; we have full manufacturing and product development capabilities. And, we have fantastic distribution partners that have been integral to our success since the very beginning. We’ve grown significantly in size and product offering, especially in the last five years or so, and that’s been driven by organic growth as well as through acquisitions.
“About 15 years ago,” she concludes, “we really looked to broaden our product portfolio solution for everyone from welders to construction workers to lab techs. We looked at brands that have expertise in some more technical areas to help us grow to become a complete safety provider for everyone’s PPE needs.”