Should I use a protective jacket or an apron to stay safe during welding work?

Presented by: Protective Industrial Products, Inc.


Q:

Should I use a protective jacket or an apron to stay safe during welding work?

A:

Welding presents many burning hazards. Recently welded materials, welding spatter, and radiation can all cause painful and unpleasant burns. Since we can’t separate the employee (the welder) from the hazard, and placing barriers would impede their work, we are left with only one option: PPE.

Choosing what PPE to wear can be difficult, since there is a huge variety of options that offer different levels of protection for different types of welding jobs. We should start from the hazard assessment process to determine what tasks need to be done and what hazards are present in that task. If our assessment leaves us with more than one option for protective gear, then personal preference can help us make the final selection.

(Learn about the Major Safety Concerns for Welders and What to do About Them.)

One of the important choices welders have to make is between wearing a welding jacket or a welding apron. To properly assessing these options, consider their pros and cons.

Welding Apron

Pros:

  • Protects a portion of the legs
  • Easy to put on and take off
  • Does not come in sizes (though it does come in different lengths) and is adjustable, so it can be used by multiple employees and save on inventory cost

Cons:

  • Does not protect the back, shoulders, and arms (and should, therefore, be worn in combination with other PPE that does, such as sleeves)
  • Not suitable for overhead work as spatter can get behind it
  • Longer aprons might reduce mobility
  • Can get tangled in moving equipment

Other considerations:

  • Welding aprons come in a variety of models, from those that provide more coverage to half-aprons that protect only the legs, and even others that are almost indistinguishable from chaps

Welding Jacket

Pros:

  • Protects the arms and the entire torso
  • Good sealing and integration with other welding equipment (helmet, helmet bib, etc.) to ensure that sparks and spatter are diverted away from the body
  • Great for overhead work (because of factors listed above)
  • Close to the body, which means it can’t easily get tangled in equipment

Cons:

  • Heavier than welding aprons
  • More difficult to put on and take off
  • Does not protect the legs
  • Might be too hot, since it provides less heat transfer from the body to the environment
  • Comes in different sizes, which means jackets are not so easily transferrable from one employee to another

Other Considerations:

  • Jackets can be made of either leather or cotton (cotton is mostly suitable for low amperage work, while leather can be used for pretty much any welding work)

Discussion

One thing to note when deciding between these two pieces of PPE is that neither of them provides 100% body protection. No matter which you choose, you will have to use it in conjunction with other protective equipment.

If you're doing overhead work, a jacket offers better protection for the arms, shoulders, and body, but it provides no protection for the legs, so it should be supplemented with an apron, chaps, or pants.

For overhead work, it is possible to supplement a welding apron to provide protection to the upper body (by adding a welding jacket, for instance). However, the welding apron is still not ideal in that scenario because it could be an impediment for that kind of work.

If our work happens on a welding table then the jacket is not imperative, but still offers good protection, save for the legs.

The apron, on the other hand, would not protect the arms and shoulders and arguably extra protection would be needed, either through a jacket or cape.

Overall, there is no single piece of equipment that will be sufficient for all scenarios. You'll need additional PPE to get optimal protection. As a general rule, I would argue that, when both are made of leather, a jacket has an edge over the apron since it provides more protection and better integration with other pieces of protective equipment.

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Written by Karoly Ban Matei
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Karoly has worked at a senior level (both as an employee and a contractor) for organizations in the construction and manufacturing industries. He has a passion for developing and improving health and safety programs.

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