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How to safely operate a soldering iron

Soldering irons are used by both hobbyists and professionals working with electronics (or often in the offshore industry). Their purpose is to join two pieces of metal to create a conductive bond, most commonly in circuit boards or wiring. A soldering iron isn’t much good without the addition of solder though. This mixture of tin/lead (or sometimes rosin-based solder, in industrial applications) usually comes in coils. As you can imagine, a fair amount of heat is needed to melt the solder and bind the metal together. This means that using a soldering iron can be dangerous and could lead to burn injuries. If you’ve been injured whilst using a soldering iron – or by somebody else using one – either at work or in your leisure time, you may be eligible to claim personal injury compensation if somebody else was at fault.

Butane or electric – which soldering iron is best?

There are two main types of soldering iron – butane gas irons and electric irons. Butane gas irons are often more popular due to the fact that they’re more portable; there’s no electric cord to worry about, and they can be easily refilled. They also only take around 10 seconds to warm up and have an extensive heat range as you can control the heat by limiting the amount of butane burned. Both types of irons have their dangers, and it’s best to choose the type of soldering iron that you prefer, taking into account where and when it will be used. If you’re using a butane iron, make sure you hold it with the refill nozzle pointing upwards and press down with the butane bottle to refill. For electric irons, you should plug them in and leave them on their stand until the optimum temperature is reached.

How to use a soldering iron

There are a few steps to follow before using a soldering iron:

  • You should ensure the item(s) to be soldered are secured with a vice or frame
  • Clean the tip of the iron by wiping it over a wet sponge a few times
  • Tin the soldering tip by touching a little solder to the tip of the iron

It’s important to use the iron properly, so make sure you are holding it in one hand, like a pen. Hold a fairly long strip of solder in the other hand. You should always ensure you position the tip of the iron so that it is touching both metal parts to be soldered – this ensures that they will both reach the same temperature. Hold the iron for a couple of seconds like this before touching the strip of solder to the side of the join opposite the tip, and allowing the solder to cover the connection. Remove first the solder and then the iron tip from the connection.

Safety precautions when using a soldering iron

Accidents can and do happen at home and at work when using a soldering iron. Often, accidents are caused by failing to follow safety precautions, or by somebody else’s negligence. The following safety tips will help to reduce the risk of soldering iron accidents:

  • Never touch the tip of your soldering iron whilst it is hot
  • Do not shake solder drips off the hot iron – these could splash onto your skin, causing burns, or into your eyes, causing eye injuries
  • Always place the iron back on its stand, never onto other surfaces
  • Wear gloves, or ensure you wash your hands well after using solder, which contains lead and other harmful chemicals that could make you ill or cause dermatitis

It’s important to solder in a well-ventilated area, and there are a number of reasons for this. In some industrial applications (for example, if you work offshore), rosin-based solder may be used. Exposure to these fumes can cause asthma and other breathing difficulties, so you’ll need to ensure that your employer carries out a control of substances hazardous to health (COSHH) risk assessment. In fact, a risk assessment should always be carried out before soldering, and you should always ensure that others in the area are aware that you are using a hot soldering iron nearby.

Other risks of soldering irons

Failing to solder in a well-ventilated area can lead to exposure to lead fumes, which can be hazardous to your health. If you are soldering at work, or have been asked to solder by somebody else, you should always wear adequate protection and ensure that you are working in an area with plenty of ventilation. Adverse effects from inhaling soldering fumes can lead to chest pain, dizziness and headaches, chronic bronchitis and occupational asthma, and you may require medical treatment if this has happened to you. As well as being exposed to fumes, there is obviously the risk of burns, which could cause permanent scarring, that can affect you psychologically as well as physically. Depending on the degree of burns you have sustained, you could require surgery or skin grafts and need to take a significant amount of time off work to recover.

During this time, you might want to think about claiming personal injury compensation with Accident Advice Helpline, if somebody else has caused your accident. As well as exposure to fumes from rosin and lead-based solder, you could also suffer from skin conditions such as Colophony Dermatitis, if rosin-based solder contacts your skin. This can cause a painful, red, eczema-like rash and can even result in blisters in serious cases.

Should you claim compensation after a soldering accident?

If you think that more could have been done to prevent your soldering iron accident from happening, or if you have been injured whilst somebody else was using a soldering iron near you, you could find you’re eligible to make a no win no fee personal injury claim with Accident Advice Helpline. With over 16 years’ industry experience, we have helped hundreds of people claim compensation after a soldering iron accident, and we believe everybody should have the opportunity to make a claim. Why not call our freephone helpline today on 0800 689 5659 to find out more about making your claim?