Being an underwater welder is not as it’s cracked up to be. Sure, the pay is good. More than lucrative as welders who do their work underwater can earn between $100,000 and $200,000 a year. However, the dangers are very serious as the underwater welding death rate is estimated at around 15%, making it one of the most dangerous jobs on the planet.
So the question remains, is underwater welding worth it? Are the pros enough to justify the cons?
Underwater Welding Hazards
Welding by itself is considered a dangerous trade. Immense heat, handling various pieces of metals, the possibility of shrapnel flying past your head, and not to mention all the suffocating fumes that directly result from welding.
But when we add another frightening element into the picture, like water, things get even dicier, particularly if you are completely submerged while doing it. There are numerous hazards that underwater welding comes with, many of which can cause permanent injuries and even more that could lead to death.
Some of the potential risks include:
- Electrocution – Mixing electricity and water is never a good thing, particularly when it comes to seawater which contains salt, ions, and various metals. Unsuitable equipment used in water welding can easily lead to electrical shocks and death.
- Hypothermia – The depths of an ocean can be extremely cold. So cold, in fact, that it can lead to tissue damage and organ failure. Welders that go very deep should wear properly insulated rubber wetsuits.
- Drowning – You are surrounded by water from all angles. One wrong move or equipment failure can lead to certain death. Even the most experienced water welders are not safe and should be careful not to get tangled in their equipment or get caught up in underwater currents.
- Explosions – There are numerous underwater gas pockets we might not be aware of. Once hydrogen and oxygen come into contact, the gas pocket can explode and cause mayhem for the submerged welders.
- Decompression sickness – Underwater welders sometimes go very deep to do their work, and they do run the risk of sometimes going too deep too fast. Sudden pressure changes can affect the body and cause decompression illness. It can even lead to arterial gas embolism if a welder is not careful enough.
Underwater Welding Life Expectancy
We cannot deny the fact of how dangerous underwater welding is. The Occupation Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) states that every year, 6 to 13 people die in diving accidents. Unfortunately, the number may be much higher as these statistics are grossly outdated.
There has been much research on the subject to show how dangerous underwater welding is. One of them is found in the United States Center for Disease Control and Prevention’s article (based on OSHA research administered between 1989 and 1997), which states that 5 out of 3,000 welders die every year, with drowning cited as the number one cause. However, based on the current population of divers and the approximate death toll, the number is much higher as it reaches 11 fatalities per year.
A study before this was conducted in the North Sea and the Gulf of Mexico. The study encompassed the period between 1968 and 1978 and resulted in 900 deaths in the Gulf of Mexico and 700 in the North Sea. The author of the research stated that the two main factors for underwater welders’ death were host factors (behavioral dysfunction and level of experience) and environmental factors (supervisor’s errors and equipment failure). Back then, it was concluded that a diver’s inexperience was the prevailing cause of death.
But the most recent study came from a diving supervisor named Kyla Richter. She based her research on the findings gathered by The Divers Association (TDA) for the period between 2002 and 2014. From those records, she could conclude that a diver’s average age is 37. Therefore, most underwater welder deaths happen between 35 and 40.
If you consider that most underwater welders start diving school at the age of 20, by the time they are 35, they have had a 15- year long career. This means that deaths cannot be attributed to the diver’s inexperience. She concluded that most fatalities happen due to companies’ poor safety measures. Kyla also advocated for improved working conditions for employees and overall safety.
Is Underwater Welding Worth It?
Becoming an underwater welder certainly comes with its merits. One of them is definitely financial compensation, as a certified welder can earn up to $300,000 a year. Also, earning a commercial diver’s license does not take so long as one can acquire it in up to a year. This means that a person can start working and earning much faster than a doctor or a lawyer, who make the big bucks but take significantly longer to obtain the licenses needed to practice their trait.
Not to mention that underwater welding comes with the merits of traveling worldwide. You will be able to see the sites and tell stories that not many people in this world have experienced.
But it all comes at a price. All the factors and numbers mentioned above indicate how dangerous this job can be. Even highly trained and skilled operators can get injured or even die on the job.
Underwater Welding Death Rate Conclusion
The math is simple; Underwater welding is life-threatening! The danger comes from all angles. Whether it is electrocution, decompression, explosions, or drowning, a lot of stuff can kill you. But the return is pretty awesome as well, as you will be earning a doctor’s salary with less than half of the time invested in getting a license and starting to work. It is up to you if you are willing to take on the risks this job brings.
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