Welding Safety FAQ

Welders, don’t let your health go up in smoke!

Our society is becoming ever more health conscious as science becomes better able to explain cause-and-effect of diseases and ailments. Increasing knowledge about the health hazards associated with breathing welding fumes and gases above certain concentrations and the serious illnesses that can result emphasises the need to educate, train and provide welders with appropriate protection. Safe welding practice requires recognition of the hazards, evaluation of the risks and implementation of control measures to protect workers and welders’ health. If you have any specific welding safety questions that aren’t covered below then please don’t hesitate in contacting us about welding safety.

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    What respiratory protection is required when welding painted material?

    If you weld painted material you should be especially careful, as many paints can give off very hazardous air pollutants. When welding material painted with lead primer, it is recommended that you use a powered air respirator with a particle filter and an odour filter to minimise unpleasant smells. If the material is painted with two component paint or insulated with polyurethane, you should always contact an appropriately qualified safety professional, such as an Occupational Hygienist for respiratory protection advice. There is a large risk that you will be exposed to isocyanates, which are very hazardous to inhale and difficult to detect. In these cases it may be necessary to use a supplied air respirator. Download the respiratory chart below for more information regarding respiratory protection required with specific materials, ventilation conditions and welding applications (MIG/TIG/Stick Welding).

    Download a welding respiratory chart
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    What respiratory protection do I need when welding in restricted areas?

    If you are welding in restricted or semi-ventilated areas - where there is a potential for build-up of higher levels of contaminant and/or a reduction in oxygen levels - a supplied air respirator is suggested, regardless of welding method. With a supplied air respirator, providing breathable quality air, you can be confident of getting sufficient oxygen, as well as high levels of protection against gas and particulate contaminants. Download the respiratory chart below for more information regarding respiratory protection required with specific materials, ventilation conditions and welding applications (MIG/TIG/Stick Welding).

    Download the respiratory protection guidelines
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    What if the atmosphere is classified as IDLH?

    Powered or supplied air respirators without auxiliary backup supply are never to be used in atmospheres immediately dangerous to life or health (IDLH). Always ask an appropriately qualified safety professional, such as an Occupational Hygienist for respiratory protection advice if you are unsure. Download the respiratory chart found through the link below for more information regarding respiratory protection required with specific materials, ventilation conditions and welding applications (MIG/TIG/Stick Welding).

    Download the Speedglas welding respiratory advice
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    Are shielding gases and alloyed electrodes hazardous to welders?

    When welding with MIG and TIG, the gases argon and helium are used as shielding gases. Neither argon nor helium is considered hazardous, but they can displace oxygen in unventilated areas. In such cases, a supplied air respirator may be required. When welding with MAG, carbon dioxide, or a mixture of carbon dioxide and a gas, is used as a shielding gas. Since parts of the shielding gas can be converted into carbon monoxide when the gas reaches the air, large quantities of carbon monoxide can form around the welding arc. Carbon monoxide cannot be filtered away. If the ventilation is bad, the carbon monoxide and oxygen level must be monitored and a supplied air respirator used. Alloyed electrodes are common when welding with MAG. The alloys often contain manganese or silicates. This means that large quantities of manganese oxide and silicates are diffused into the surrounding air when you are welding. A powered air respirator with particle filter can offer sufficient protection against alloy particles. Download the respiratory chart below for more information regarding respiratory protection required with specific materials, ventilation conditions and welding applications (MIG/TIG/Stick Welding).

    Download the welders' respiratory guide
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    When does ozone form when welding and do I require protection?

    When welding aluminium not only are particles of aluminium oxide produced but ozone gas is formed by the action of the UV radiation from the arc breaking down molecular oxygen. Ozone is also produced when welding stainless steel with TIG. Eventually ozone will be converted back to oxygen, a process that speeds up when the ozone comes into contact with solid surfaces. Ozone will react back to normal O2 over time but is an irritant gas when inhaled. At low ozone concentrations the use of a powered air respirator with particulate filter reduces the amount of ozone reaching the welder. This is achieved by the fact that the particle filter (because of its large surface area) and the breathing tube to the welding helmet help to catalyse the conversion of ozone back to normal oxygen. At higher concentrations the inclusion of a gas filter would add an additional large surface of carbon granules on which a further reduction of ozone takes place. Download the respiratory chart below for more information regarding respiratory protection required with specific materials, ventilation conditions and welding applications (MIG/TIG/Stick Welding).

    Download the Speedglas welding respiratory advice
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    What are nitrogen gases and do I need respiratory protection?

    Nitrogen dioxide and nitric oxide are examples of nitrogen gases that are formed when you weld with high amperage and high temperatures. Nitrous gases are formed by a reaction in the air between nitrogen and oxygen and are hazardous to inhale in high concentrations, e.g. when welding in confined, poorly ventilated areas. It is recommended that a supplied air respirator is used in such cases. Download the respiratory chart below for more information regarding respiratory protection required with specific materials, ventilation conditions and welding applications (MIG/TIG/Stick Welding).

    Download the respiratory guide for welders
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    Where can I seek further advice about welding equipment & safety?

    For further information about welding equipment, welding safety or 3M™ Speedglas™ welding helmets and Welding Respirator systems contact Australian Welding Supplies (AWS). They can arrange for a welding safety expert to come out and assess your workplace and individual circumstances. Ask a question, arrange a call back or read more in the literature and videos section of this website.

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