It is more complicated than you might have anticipated when it is about respiratory protection for welding. Experts always recommend respiratory protection because welding without having yourself protected first is like inviting diseases and injuries in your life. Although it varies from one welding task to another, there is a minimum requirement.

The type of respiratory protection that is the minimum required when welding entails different gears – powered air, supplied air, disposable, and reusable protections. They are the most recommended for maximum welding activities because it is easy to filter welding fumes and airborne hazards, where oil mist is merely a factor. You can use higher-class filters too.

Respiratory protection is a must to keep you from breathing too many welding fumes and gases. And we are going to tell you why and how.

But let’s begin with what.

What Is Welding Fume?

Welding fume consists of solid, fine metal oxide particles forming during welding. How many fumes a welder may inhale is dependent on welding methods, places, conditions, and the metals they will weld.

Different metals may be in a welding fume: arsenic, chromium, cadmium, iron, copper, cobalt, beryllium, zinc, and vanadium. Gases usually emitted from welding are nitrogen oxides, phosgene, fluorine compounds, ozone, carbon monoxide, and carbon dioxide.

Flux shielding combustion, UR interactions with shielding gas, carbon dioxide, solvents, oxygen, and burning coatings of metals are responsible for the presence of these gases.

Learn more about welding fume extractors.

What Factors Affect Respiratory Exposure During Welding?

  • The base metals to be welded
  • The filler material to be used
  • The metal paints and coatings to be welded
  • Chemical reactions and shielding gases resulting from the UV light coming from the heat
  • Reactions with contaminants from the air, i.e., vapor from nearby degreasers and cleaners
  • Local ventilation
  • Work area
  • Amperage/Voltage

Should One Take Welding Safety Seriously?

It has been around 100 years since the arc welding helmet invention, and eye injuries still stand as the most severe injury for welders. However, after 3 decades since the auto-darkening helmet started offering IR/UV protection, welders keep using passive lenses for their welding helmets.

Even with sufficient information on different hazards, eye trauma has become the key reason for global blindness. And guess what? Grinding and welding are the leading factors responsible for almost 30% of the injuries.

So, yeah. One should take welding safety very seriously. It is not complicated, but it is paramount to maintain.

Even when you know better to place your eye protection and helmet correctly, the need to educate welders about the health issues involved with breathing gases, fumes, training, and providing them with proper respiratory protection remains a crucial concern.

It can take weeks to months to even years for some illnesses caused by fumes to come to light.

What Type Of Respiratory Protection Is The Minimum Required When Welding

What Type Of Respiratory Protection Is The Minimum Required When Welding?

An auto-darkening welding helmet should offer minimum respiratory protection when welding.

Things are not that simple about choosing a welding helmet for respiratory protection because you cannot get a single gear to support you for every welding task. So, you must consider your local standards and individual circumstances while deciding on appropriate respiratory protection.

Selecting the right respiratory protective equipment becomes easy once you identify and quantify the airborne hazards. The information needed here is the hazard toxicity and its presence in your working environment.

So, you have to monitor the air regularly even when you use a respiratory environment. Why is that? Because you have to go for a new respirator if the air contamination increases.

For example, if the hazard concentration is more than 50 times the standard level of exposure, you have to use powered air respiratory protection. However, supplied or powered air equipment may not be the best one for personal requirements.

You do not want to use them when the atmosphere is Immediately Dangerous to Life or Death (IDLH). The same applies to any confined place according to AS2865 or your local standards.

Other auto-darkening helmets offer safety features, such as head protection, hearing protection, etc. They depend on your conditions for you to consider them your minimum requirement of respiratory protection. It is necessary to arrange safety in places where overhead hazards occur frequently.

What Do P1, P2, and P3 Mean Regarding Welding Respiratory Protection?

P1 means that you can use it for mechanically produced particles like powders, dust, and silica. You can get P2 if the dust is thermally and mechanically generated, for example, metal fume, welding fume, etc. Finally, P3 is for particulates that need higher protection factors.

You can determine the particulate filters’ performance by evaluating its penetration by two diameters – one is a ~0.3-0.6 micron mass median, and the other is a sodium chloride aerosol of 0.02-0.2 micron equivalent diameter. They are the sizes of the most penetrating particles at a breathing flow rate.

What Kind Of Respiratory Protection Do I Need When Welding?

There are several kinds of respiratory protection gears. The most recommended ones are powered air, supplied air, disposable, and reusable respiratory protections. Each has its characteristics that suit specific welding environments. Read below to learn more about them.

Powered Air Respiratory Protection

It gets you better protection by featuring a Required Minimum Protection Factor (RMPF). It is so comfortable that you can work wearing it for long periods. You will take in air around 50 times purer than breathing unprotected.

The gear draws in the air by using its filtration layers. Then it gets that air into the respiratory helmet. You can adjust the liter per minute settings to get a steady flow of cooling and clean air straight to your breathing zone. And while doing that, it will also save you from particles, gases, and nuisance odors depending on your needs and requirements.

Advantages

  • Air movement with cooling effects
  • High protection offering full mobility
  • No breathing resistance or fitting issues
  • Lower costs compared to reusable and disposable respirators

Disadvantages

  • Routine inspection, cleaning, maintenance, and battery charging are mandatory.

Supplied Air Respiratory Protection

It is a belt-mounted, lightweight regulator that enables you to customize the delivery of airflow into your helmet. The airflow ranges from 170 liters to 305 liters each minute. The constant and high flow makes the regulator perfect for strenuous and hot welding conditions where the requirement is a Required Minimum Protection Factor (RMPF) of 100+. RMPF means there will be a 100x decrease in your vulnerability to contaminants.

That is why a supplier air respirator’s effectiveness is double that of a powered air respirator. (RMPF = PAPR 200).

Advantages

  • High protection and airflow rate
  • Lightweight and belt-mounted regulator
  • Low operating costs
  • Air supply using external source
  • Air movement with cooling effects

Disadvantage

  • Limited mobility with an attached airline
  • Requirement of a filtration system and compressor

How To Choose Between Powered Air Respirator And Supplied Air Respirator?

You should make the decision based on some critical factors. Based on the welding conditions, take into account the welding application, the materials you will weld, the toxicity level of the airborne hazards, the criteria for mobility, the presence of ventilation, and the density of pollutants.

Besides PAPR and RMPF, there are disposable and reusable respirator masks. Their brief introductions are as follows:

Disposable Respirator Masks:

They provide an RMPF of 10. A trained welder wearing this one will receive a 10x minimization in exposure to filtered pollutants.

Advantages

  • Lightweight and no restriction of mobility
  • No maintenance or cleaning required

Disadvantages

  • Protection will be compromised if it does not fit correctly.
  • It can become loaded quickly in particular welding environments.

Reusable Respirator Masks:

They do the same thing as disposable respirator masks. The only dissimilarity is that you have to dispose of the disposable ones after use, but you can use the reusable ones repeatedly.

Advantages

  • No necessity for routine replacement
  • Lightweight and no restriction of mobility
  • Better fitting

Disadvantages

  • Routine inspection, maintenance, and cleaning are a must.
  • Protection will be compromised if it does not fit correctly.
  • It can become loaded quickly in particular welding environments.

Final Words

I think it is clear to you by now that the minimum requirement of respiratory protection when welding depends on many things. It is not like you can have a go-to for all your tasks. You cannot use an RMPF 10 as your basic protection in an environment that requires an RMPF 100+.

Besides, some gears require regular maintenance and replacement. Some have mobility restrictions. So, evaluate their characteristics and see if they fit your circumstances. Only then should you proceed further.

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