Welding Fume Control
When it comes to welding fume, all efforts should be made to mitigate the risks where possible. Welding fume monitoring is the first step in this process. An occupational hygienist can sample your workplace atmospheres to determine whether welders and other workers in the vicinity of welding fume are exposed to significant levels of hazardous chemicals. A report is then provided that will present control options to mitigate welding fume exposure.
However, even when you can mitigate risk, if there is welding to be done, there will be some amount of welding fume. Therefore, especially in the welding industry, the higher levels of control can often only mitigate the risks associated with welding fume, making the lower levels of control, such as product controls, essential parts of the control strategy.
The below video (courtesy of the Speedglas Powered Air Training Academy) shows AWS Occupational Hygienist Terry Gorman further breaking down the process of minimising fume exposure:
In the hierarchy of controls, PPE is often referred to as the last resort. However, when it comes to welding, suitable PPE must always be worn. Respiratory Protective Equipment (RPE) for protection against welding fume is commonly available in two forms:
- Welding Helmets with integrated respiratory protection
- Half mask respirators.
Disposable or reusable half mask respirators can be worn underneath a welding helmet to provide a Required Minimum Protection Factor (RMPF) of 10. This means that the air that passes through the respirator will be at least 10 times cleaner than the air you would breathe if you were unprotected.
Welding helmets with integrated powered air purifying respirators (PAPR) have an RMPF of 50, offering 5 times the protection of a half mask respirator. Also, a PAPR offers a steady flow of fresh air which can cool and ventilate and increase the welder’s comfort level, which is important when you consider that the more comfortable a piece of PPE is, the more likely it is to be worn.
What’s more, when a welder is using a helmet with a half mask respirator, they will often lift the helmet after they weld, leaving themselves vulnerable to radiation and high velocity hazards generated by other workers. With a flip-up welding helmet with PAPR, welders can have completely clear and uninhibited views of their workpiece and surroundings, while maintaining their desired level of respiratory protection with constant eye and face protection.
Working Near Welders
When you consider a very small welding fume particle can take potentially 2 days to reach the floor when released from a height of 1.5 metres, you begin to see how long these particles can remain suspended in the workplace air. This is vital to consider especially when welders are sharing the environment with non-welders.
Clear visors with powered air can provide protection from welding fume as well as high impact eye and face protection and optional hearing and head protection for non-welders. Well-designed and located extract ventilation is another option that can be introduced to effectively remove welding fume from reaching the wider working environment.