Underwater Welding Death Rate

Underwater Welding Death Rate

We sometimes hear news about the underwater welding death rate and honestly, this sounds alarming. Unfortunately, people are taking underwater welding jobs although they know this could be risky. But why would anyone do welding underwater and face the risks of death when we all know that electricity and water don’t mix? On the other hand, based on research, it is not only by electrocution that welders can die underwater. So what are these? How deadly is this job and what could be the death rate for underwater welding?

So here are things on what you need to know about underwater welding as well as the underwater welding fatality rate that goes with the danger of this job.

Underwater welding involves two kinds of welding – hyperbaric welding and wet underwater welding. Hyperbaric welding is done underwater wherein the welders are inside an air regulated chamber and the electrode is not touching the water when welders do their job. The welders are also free of cables and wetsuits  just like welding on the surface. 

Wet underwater welding is done literally underwater so the divers and the electrodes are directly exposed to water. Insulated wetsuits and heavy underwater helmets are worn while lots of cables are attached to the welders’ helmets and diving suits. Insulated metal discs may also be carried on their hips to keep them from floating.    

How Electrocution Adds to the Increase of Underwater Welder

Wet underwater welding may involve the use of shielded metal arc welding, flux-cored arc welding and friction welding. Welders also need about 300-400 amps of direct current while scratching waterproof electrodes to the surface of the metal to create the arc.  Because electricity is the power source, welders get connected to large batteries located above water through several cables. So with all these things connected to the divers, these can contribute to the underwater welder death rate that is accounted for every year.  

But how does a diver with a protective welding wetsuit get the shock? 

The flow of electricity is controlled manually by someone on the surface using a flip or a kill switch. When the welder is changing electrodes or pauses to clean up the weld, he talks to the current controller through the communication cable to switch off the flow of current. However, things can get awry sometimes. For example, the equipment can either malfunction or some parts of the operating equipment will experience electrical failure or the ground fault interrupter fails. 

There could also be instances that the welder comes to a splash zone which can throw him off-balance and loosens his connection to the ground cable. Divers can also experience water turbulence below that will cause their cables to get pulled up or tangled up which can also cause an electric shock to the divers. These are only a few of the causes why the underwater welding mortality rate through electrocution continues to increase.

How Death By Drowning Contributes to the Underwater

If you heard about the decompression sickness or “bends”, this is the result of nitrogen dissolving in the divers’ tissues and creating bubbles in the blood due to high air pressure while the divers are underwater. Bends can affect the cognitive function and musculoskeletal system of the welders which can lead to paralysis. In extreme cases, “bends sickness” can stop the beating of the heart. 

Drowning is also a contributing factor in the increase of the underwater welding death rate. But how could this possibly happen if the welders are linked to hoses carrying oxygen? 

According to the report from OSHA (Occupational Safety and Health Administration), in 1990 -1997 alone, of the 116 diving deaths in the US, 49 of these happened during occupational diving or commercial diving like underwater inspection, maintenance, repair and construction and the main cause is drowning. 

But again, how does drowning add up  to the underwater welder death rate when welders are loaded up with oxygen? 

Here are the reasons based on the studies:

Umbilical cords (cables and hoses) accidentally got twisted which triggers panic and anxiety attacks on the divers and later caused drowning.  

There is the absence of spotters that should be watching the welders and the entangled divers drowned.

The welder got disabled due to the lack of air because of cord entanglement and there was insufficient time in saving the welders. 

Other Factors That Are Contributory to the

Based on the 2014 study, for every 100,000 workers in the US, about 3 of them die every year while on the job. And surprisingly, 5 of the jobs identified that are very risky, includes underwater welding (15% fatality rate) which is number one on the list. The four other occupations are aeronautics (5% mortality rate), logging (.13%), fishing (.12%) and airplane piloting (.07%)  

Although this statistic changes annually while researchers usually do not involve underwater welding in their studies, still, underwater welding remained to be a very dangerous job and the underwater welding death rate is not seen to be waning down. Some factors could also trigger more dangers to underwater welders that other underwater welders don’t experience but very dangerous. For example, there is what experts in underwater welding call the “Delta P” or in a more technical term the “differential pressure”. 

Differential pressure happens when there are two or more bodies of water with different volumes and pressures meet in one flow like what happens in dams, water gateways, or giant water drains and the welders are underwater. When these welders get caught up in the torrential flow of volumes of water, it would almost be impossible to rescue them. Unfortunately, even expert welder divers could lose their lives in this process.   

The Realities About the Causes of Underwater Welding

The death rate for underwater welding is undoubtedly one of the riskiest jobs in the maritime industry. This is because the nature of the job calls for the occurrence of injuries or fatalities which can often lead to death. Divers once underwater can have very minimal visibility while they may need to deal with huge pipes and large ship hauls under freezing environments and high-pressure currents.  

When divers go deeper they also become vulnerable to decompression sickness and if they need to go up because of cords entanglement or suit malfunctions, they cannot go up instantly or face the risk of bends. They may also face the danger of explosions, water gear malfunctions, hypothermia (freezing) and electric shock which can instantly render them unconscious. So overall, once welders go underwater, they are unconsciously adding themselves to the possible underwater welding fatality rate which is very unfortunate.   

Adding to these, some divers who work for maritime companies were found to be lacking in training while there are also cases that welders underwater die because their equipment was not designed for underwater welding.

Potential Changes That Can Prevent Underwater

Since 1978, OSHA’s standards for safety about commercial diving haven’t been updated in spite that there are obvious reasons for the need for new underwater welding standards. And although there are indications of the lack of safety procedures and fresh regulations that can ensure the safety of underwater welders, no new rules are seen being implemented even in the near future. Therefore, the underwater welding death rate will continue to increase.  

What we are hoping for now is that the maritime industry should do their own thing to help prolong the life expectancy of underwater welders and keep them safer. Employers must also realize that there should be an improvement for the present diving equipment including the diving and welding gears, the use for more advanced monitoring devices, the enhancement of diving and welding practices for the divers and the provision of support teams to protect the diver welders.    

Experts also recommend the provision of complete training and certification to all wanna-be underwater welders. They, accordingly, must also join diving schools which is very necessary to prevent anxiety and panic while working underwater.  If all these can be implemented, we can expect that the underwater welding fatality rate would become less and less.


Commercial fishing is already considered one of the most dangerous jobs in the world because aside from large equipment, fishermen are prone to freezing temperatures, bad weather conditions, and sickness while in the open seas. With underwater welding, the danger does not only double up but can even be triply dangerous. Divers may work in total darkness surrounded by freezing pressurized water and they can only depend on their cables for life support.   

Underwater welders do their job so that commercial trade will continue to survive. They go down there to fix things up and risk their lives in the process. Unfortunately, the governments are not giving our underwater divers the right support and even neglecting them with their studies for further development of hazards and safety precautions. Thus, with a lack of assistance, unfortunately, the underwater welding mortality rate may continue to increase year after year. 

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