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 is welding fume?

    Welding fumes are very fine, solid particles of metal oxides that form during the welding process. The specific substances and amount a welder inhales depend on the welding method, conditions under which the welding takes place, and the types of metals being welded. Many types of metals may be found in welding fumes, including arsenic, beryllium, cadmium, chromium, cobalt, copper, iron, lead, manganese, nickel, selenium, vanadium, and zinc. Gases commonly associated with welding are carbon dioxide, carbon monoxide, nitrogen oxides, ozone, fluorine compounds, and phosgene. These gases may be present as the result of:

    • Combustion of flux shielding.
    • Ultraviolet radiation interaction with shielding gases, oxygen, carbon dioxide, and solvents.
    • Burning metal coatings.
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    How much welding fume can a welder ingest in a year?

    The occupational exposure standard for general carbon steel welding over an 8-hour period is 5mg/m3 inspired air. However, even if you are within this occupational exposure limit, you inhale up to 11 grams of carbon steel every year*. The welding fume canister contains 11 grams of welding fume particle. Year after year this is the quantity of fume inhaled by an unprotected welder*. The health effects of welding exposures are many and varied, because the fumes can contain so many different harmful substances.

    Long term welders need to protect their health over many years of exposure. Short term effects can be readily reduced or avoided and the long term effect risks can be minimised. Good engineering controls and work practices are imperative. For example, it’s important, when feasible, to use local and source-exhaust ventilation to remove harmful fumes and gases. Where possible, less hazardous materials should be substituted. Material Safety Data Sheets (MSDS) should be reviewed to identify any hazards that might be associated with the welding job. In many cases, engineering controls alone can’t reduce exposure levels adequately.
    Get in touch about welders’ respiratory protection or explore our range of welding helmets with respiratory protection

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    What are the factors affecting welding respiratory exposure?

    • The base material being welded or the filler material that is used.
    • Coatings and paints on the metal being welded or coatings covering the electrode.
    • Shielding gases; and chemical reactions which result from the action of ultraviolet light from the arc and heat.
    • Reaction with other contaminants in the air. Eg. vapours from nearby cleaners and degreasers.
    • Work position.
    • Ventilation (area/local).
    • Voltage/Amperage.
    Contact us with your questions on the safety of welders or view our range of respiratory welding helmets

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    How serious an issue is welding safety?

    More than 100 years after the invention of the arc welding helmet, eye injuries continue to be the most common acute injury suffered by welders. More than 30 years since the first auto darkening welding helmets - offering continuous UV/IR protection for the welders’ eyes - were released, welders continue to use welding helmets with passive lenses or nothing at all. Even with all the available information on the hazards, "eye trauma is still the leading cause of blindness worldwide. Welding and grinding are responsible for 29% of all eye injuries"*.

    However, even once the correct welding helmet and eye protection is in place, increasing knowledge about the health hazards associated with breathing welding fumes and gases above certain concentrations emphasises the need to educate, train and provide welders with appropriate respiratory protection. Illness due to fumes can be instant or insidious, taking weeks, months or sometimes years to become apparent.

    Short term effects can be concerning & disruptive and include -

    • Eye and skin irritation
    • Nausea and other gastrointestinal effects
    • Headache and muscle ache
    • Dizziness
    • Metal fume fever
    • Chills
    • Pulmonary oedema (fluid in the lungs)

    Long term effects can be deadly and include -

    • Increased risk of cancer in lung, larynx and urinary tract
    • Bronchitis, asthma and pneumonia
    • Emphysema and siderosis
    • Ulcers & kidney damage
    • Heart and skin disease
    • Damage to the central nervous system and brain (Parkinson's disease etc)
    Contact us regarding welders’ safety or view welding helmets with powered air protection

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    Whose responsibility is welding safety?

    In general welders run a 40% greater risk than other professional groups of being affected by lung cancer*. Welders do not wear respiratory protection when they should and they are unaware of the many hazardous materials they can breathe in while working. Therefore, generally, it is the responsibility of the employer to identify any hazards that are found in the working environment and to provide workers with adequate welding equipment and protection. Good engineering controls and work practices are imperative. For example, it's important, when feasible, to use local and source-exhaust ventilation to remove harmful fumes and gases. Where possible, less hazardous materials should be substituted. Material safety data sheets (MSDS) should be reviewed to identify any hazards that might be associated with the specific job. In many cases, engineering controls alone can't reduce exposure levels adequately. For improved respiratory protection 3M™ Speedglas™ auto darkening welding helmets with an Adflo powered air respirator system or V-500E supplied air regulator can be implemented to provide air 50 to 100 times cleaner than the air the welder would otherwise be breathing. Welding safety may be the employer’s responsibility, but welding safety awareness is everyone's responsibility. The welder isn't the only person who can be affected adversely by exposure to welding arc or fume. Conditions that used to be considered as "acceptable" are now being questioned by welders, unions and companies. Everyone who works within a business can be an agent of change.

    Ask a question on welding safety or view our range of respiratory welding helmets

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    How important is training?

    Training is imperative. It's no good having the correct safety measures and welding equipment in place if they are being used incorrectly or not at all. A training schedule should be put in place for all new safety products. Purchasing safety and welding equipment from a supplier like AWS / Speedglas, who will train the welders in the correct use and maintenance procedures, is a very important but often overlooked factor when assessing what welding equipment to use. When it comes to auto darkening welding helmets with respiratory protection, consumables and filters must be changed at suitable intervals to maintain the desired protection.

    Organise a training session on respiratory protection for welders or view the Speedglas 9100XXi FX Air with the Adflo PAPR

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    Are there any Australian & New Zealand standards that welders should be aware of?

    The relevant Australian and New Zealand Standards for personal protective welding equipment that employers and employees alike should take note of are as follows:

    • AS/NZS1337 & AS/NZS1337.1 - Face Protection
    • AS/NZS1338.1 - Eye Protection
    • AS/NZS1716 - Respiratory Protection
    • AS/NZS1801 - Head Protection
    • AS/NZS1270 - Hearing Protection

    3M™ Speedglas™ have just released an auto-darkeningwelding helmet system that complies with all 5 standards listed above giving the welder eye, face (high impact), head, respiratory and optional hearing protection.

    If welders undertake any grinding, the auto darkening welding helmet / visor should comply with AS/NZS1337.1 or AS/NZS1337 for high impact, otherwise the impact protection is not suitable. Please note that ANSI (US) and EN (European) standards are not interchangeable with Australian & New Zealand Standards.

    Occupational Exposure Limit (OEL) standards for airborne contaminants like welding fume are set by government health organisations. However, even when adhering to the OEL the welding environment can be 100 times worse than the clean air quality standards set in large cities. Therefore, respiratory protection should always be recommended and used, even if the welder’s exposure is within the OEL.

    Please note that mixing Welding Respirator system components with non-matching respiratory welding helmets from multiple welding equipment manufacturers will void compliance with Australian and New Zealand Standards and can leave you unprotected.

    Contact us regarding Australian and New Zealand Standards required for welder’s safety or view the Speedglas 9100XXi MP Air with the Adflo PAPR which offers welders five levels of protection: Eye, Face, Hearing, Respiratory and Head.

    Contact us regarding Australian and New Zealand Standards required for welder’s safety or view the Speedglas 9100XXi MP Air with the Adflo PAPR which offers welders five levels of protection: Eye, Face, Hearing, Respiratory and Head.

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    Is there a basic level of safety gear that welders should be using?

    Speedglas auto darkening welding helmets, if used correctly, will ensure that eye injuries are a thing of the past in the workplace when welding.

    When it comes to welding helmets with respiratory protection, it is a little more complicated and no simple 'rule of thumb' basic level of Speedglas safety gear will suffice for every task. Respiratory protection is always recommended - whether it be a disposable, reusable, powered or supplied air Welding Respirator. However, when deciding on suitable respiratory protection you should always take into account your individual circumstances and any relevant local standards.

    Selection of the right Welding Respirator and protective equipment is straightforward once the airborne hazard has been identified and quantified. Speedglas respiratory protective welding equipment should be selected using accurate information on the toxicity of the various airborne hazards and the amount present in the working environment. Therefore, it is essential that air monitoring is regularly carried out, even when respiratory protective Speedglas welding equipment is used. If the contaminant levels in the air increase, a different type of respirator or other controls may have to be used. The 3M™ Speedglas 9100 series with the Adflo powered air Welding Respirator is suitable in areas where the airborne hazard concentrations are up to 50 times the exposure standard. The 3M™ Speedglas 9100 series with the supplied air V-500E regulator is suitable where the airborne hazard concentrations are up to 100 times the exposure standard. Speedglas powered or supplied air welding equipment may not be suitable for your personal requirements - neither form of protection should be used if the atmosphere is classed as Immediately Dangerous to Life or Health (IDLH) or in a confined space as per AS2865 or local standards.

    Optional Speedglas auto darkening welding helmet safety features like head protection (safety helmets) or hearing protection are really dependent on your individual circumstances and as a result they could also be considered 'your' basic level of safety equipment. If you require a safety helmet to provide head protection for locations where overhead hazards are present then this level of protection is a necessity.

    Ask a Question on welders’ safety requirements or View the Speedglas Welding Helmet Range

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    Price or Suitability with Welding Protection?

    When it comes to welding equipment and safety products, the cliché - "you get what you pay for" - has never rung more truly. Welding equipment and Personal Protective Equipment PPE should always be selected based on the individual’s circumstances, not the price. Choose quality welding equipment brands like Speedglas that comply with Australian standards, have dedicated support (pre-purchase demonstrations and post-purchase training) and have spare parts and consumables readily available. At the end of the day, you only have one pair of eyes and one set of lungs - how much is your safety or the safety of your welders worth?

    What respiratory protection do I need when welding stainless steel? When welding stainless steel with MIG or MMAW, the welding fumes often contain particles of chromium and nickel, of which chromium is the more toxic. A powered air respirator with particle filter offers you excellent protection in this application in atmospheres with good ventilation. TIG welding does not usually emit much welding fume but creates large quantities of ozone gas (information on ozone gas below). Plasma cutting and plasma welding give rise to high temperatures, which can emit damaging oxides of nitrogen. Download the respiratory chart below for more information regarding respiratory protection required with specific materials, ventilation conditions and welding applications (MIG/TIG/Stick Welding).

    Use the welding helmet selector tool to find the welding helmet best suited to your individual requirements.

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    What does P1, P2 & P3 mean in relation to Welder’s respiratory protection?

    For protection from particulates, there are three classes of filters under AS/NZS1716 – called P1, P2 and P3:

    • P1 – used for mechanically generated particles eg silica, dusts, powders.
    • P2 – used for mechanically and thermally generated dusts eg welding fume, metal fume.
    • P3 – used for all particulates requiring high protection factors.

    The performance of particulate filters is determined by testing the penetration of the filter by a sodium chloride aerosol of 0.02-0.2 micron equivalent diameter and ~0.3-0.6 micron mass median diameter - which is the most penetrating particle size for filters at breathing flow rates.

    Ask a question on respiratory protection for welders or visit the product section to discover 3M disposable respiratory masks, 3M Reusable respiratory masks or explore our auto-darkening welding helmets.
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    What is Powered Air Respiratory Protection and what do I need?

    The 3M™ Adflo™ Powered Air Purifying Respirator provides increased protection to the welder with a Required Minimum Protection Factor (RMPF) of 50 for cleaner air and improved comfort all day long. This simply means the welder will breathe air 50 times cleaner than they would otherwise breathing unprotected.

    The PAPR draws air in from behind the welder through the layers of filtration and delivers the air into the Speedglas respiratory welding helmet. The air-flow can be adjusted from 170 to 200 litres per minute which provides a steady stream of clean and cooling air directly to the welders breathing zone.

    Super light, narrow and comfortable, the Adflo Welder’s PAPR can help to protect against particles, nuisance odours and gases depending on the welder’s requirements and needs. An odour filter or gas filter can be added to the 3M powered respirator configuration to provide the welder with added protection.

    Recently launched with One Hour Rapid Charge, the Adflo welding respirator can give the welder an approximate run time of 8-12 hours.

    For more information on the Speedglas Welding Helmets with the Adflo PAPR system please visit the Speedglas 9100 Powered Air Section.

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    What is Supplied Air Respiratory Protection and what do I require?

    The 3M™ Versaflo™ Supplied Air Regulator V-500E is a lightweight, belt mounted regulator that allows you to adjust the airflow delivery into your Speedglas respiratory welding helmet from 170 litres per minute to 305 litres per minute. The high, constant flow rate makes the V-500E supplied air regulator ideal for hot and strenuous welding conditions and where a Required Minimum Protection Factor of 100+ (a 100x reduction in exposure to contaminants) is required. To put this level of protection into perspective, a supplied airline respirator is at least two times more effective in reducing exposure to contaminants compared to a powered air purifying respirator (PAPR = RMPF 50).

    The choice between powered air respiratory protection or supplied air respiratory protection should be based on your individual welding circumstances taking into account your welding application, the material to be welded, the toxicity of the various airborne hazards, the concentration of pollutants, requirement for mobilityand the ventilation present where the welding will take place.

    To run a Speedglas welding helmet with the V-500E supplied air regulator you will also require a compressor, a breathing air filtration system and possibly two breathing air hoses. The supplied air runs from the compressor (air pressure should not be in excess of 10 bar) into the first breathing hose connected to the breathing air filtration unit. The air is then run through a filtration system that removes oil, mist, water vapour and unpleasant odours before it passes through the second breathing air hose into the 3M V-500E belt mounted regulator and up into your welding helmet providing a steady stream of cooling and clean air.

    When deciding on a suitable breathing air filtration set-up the following guidelines can be used to choose between 4 stage, 3 stage or 2 stage filtration:

    • 4 Stage: should be used where no other filtration is in place or high levels of liquid can be seen at the point where the system is to be used.
    • 3 Stage: Where the system is being used at a point of use and basic filtration (possibly only one filter and no dryer) is installed for general plant air.
    • 2 Stage: Where the system is being used at a point of use, where filtration (generally two filters and refrigeration dryers in many cases) is installed for general plant air.

    Once the number of stages has been decided, systems are available in wall mounted or portable and available in 1 person, 3 person and 5 person configurations.

    View Breathing air hoses and Breathing Air Filtration systems in more detail under Breathing Air Filtration. To view the 3M Speedglas Welding Helmet with the V-500E Supplied Air Regulator Options please visit the Speedglas 9100 Supplied Air Section

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    What is the difference in protection and the long term cost between disposable respiratory, reusable respiratory, powered-air respiratory and supplied-air respiratory protection for welders? Are there any advantages or disadvantages between using one form

    Difference in Protection of Different Types of Respiratory Protection

    Disposable respirator masks: can provide a Required Minimum Protection Factor (RMPF) of 10. A trained wearer with a suitably fitted disposable respirator can expect to receive a 10x reduction in their exposure to the filtered contaminants.

    Reusable respirator masks: can provide a Required Minimum Protection Factor (RMPF) of 10. A trained wearer with a suitably fitted reusable respirator can expect to receive a 10x reduction in their exposure to the filtered contaminants.

    Powered Respirators (PAPR): can provide a Required Minimum Protection Factor (RMPF) of 50. A trained wearer of a powered air purifying respirator who maintains all components and changes filters as required can expect to receive a 50x reduction in their exposure to the filtered contaminants.

    Supplied Air Respirators: can provide a Required Minimum Protection Factor (RMPF) of 100+. A trained wearer of a supplied air respirator system who maintains all components, uses a suitable breathing air filtration system and changes breathing air filters as required can expect to receive a 100x reduction in their exposure to the filtered contaminants.

    Difference in Long Term Cost between Different Types of Respiratory Protection

    After understanding which forms of protection are suitable the next question is which form of protection makes the most economical sense for the welder. Every welder’s situation is different and as a result calculating which form of respiratory protection will result in a lower long term cost is difficult without reviewing specific working conditions. However, disposable and reusable forms of respiratory protection are both worn on the face closest to where the greatest concentration of welding fume will be present. Therefore, replacement of disposable respirator masks and reusable respiratory filters will occur far more frequently than compared with a powered air purifying respirator (PAPR) particle filter under the same conditions due to the PAPR drawing in the air from behind the welder. The PAPR is also fitted with an inexpensive pre-filter which prolongs the life of the particle filter. Supplied air uses a filtration system that draws in air from a compressor that should be placed far away from any welder’s fume. As a result if used with a new and relatively efficient compressor the supplied air filters only require changing infrequently.

    Therefore, over an extended period of time powered air will usually make more economical sense than disposable and reusable respiratory protection, even taking into account the upfront cost of the 3M Speedglas Adflo PAPR Unit. The initial set-up for supplied air has a significant upfront cost if a compressor is required. Therefore, if both forms of respiratory protection are suitable for your given welding situation then powered-air will likely be the more economical decision overall.

    Advantages & Disadvantages of Different Types of Respiratory Protection

    Disposable respiratory protection

    Advantages:

    • No cleaning or maintenance required
    • Lightweight and does not restrict mobility

    Disadvantages:

    • If respirator mask is not fitted correctly, then level of protection may be compromised or reduced.
    • Respirator can become loaded extremely quickly in certain welding environments

    Reusable respiratory protection

    Advantages:

    • Only the filters need to be replaced when required
    • Lightweight and doesn’t restrict mobility
    • Often provides a better fit than disposable

    Disadvantages:

    • The respirator mask must be routinely inspected, cleaned and maintained
    • If respirator is not fitted correctly, then level of protection may be compromised or reduced.
    • Filters can become loaded extremely quickly in certain welding environments

    Powered Air respiratory protection

    Advantages:

    • High level of respiratory protection with full mobility
    • No fitting issues or breathing resistance
    • Air movement can provide a cooling effect
    • May deliver lower operating costs overtime when compared to disposable and reusable respirators

    Disadvantages:

    • The respirator must be routinely inspected, cleaned, maintained and batteries charged

    Supplied Air respiratory protection

    Advantages:

    • High air flow rates and high protection levels
    • Lightweight belt mounted regulator
    • Air movement can provide a cooling effect
    • Air is supplied from an external source
    • Low running costs once set up

    Disadvantages:

    • Mobility is limited with attached airline
    • Requires a compressor and filtration system

    Explore the range of 3M disposable respirators, 3M Reusable respiratory masks, or explore our powered air respiratory systems or supplied air respiratory systems for welders.

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    What respiratory protection is needed when welding ordinary steel?

    Although welding fumes from steel is not one of the more hazardous types, it is far from good for your health. Among other things, it contains particles of iron oxide, which can cause siderosis (chronic inflammation of the lungs). When welding with MIG/MAG or stick, there are heavy fume emissions, meaning that both a respirator and good ventilation in the workplace are necessary. When welding steel, a powered air respirator with particle filter is recommended.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 guide
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    What sort of respirator is needed when welding galvanised steel?

    When welding surface-treated material like galvanised steel, a number of hazardous pollutants can be released. When welding galvanised steel, zinc oxide particles are released. These can cause zinc ague, also known as fume fever. When welding galvanised steel in atmospheres with good ventilation it is recommended that you use a powered air respirator with a particle filter and an odour filter to minimise unpleasant smells. 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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