Anyone working in the fabrication or construction industry knows the challenges of dealing with air quality onsite. The air we breathe is never 100% clean. We’re always picking up trace elements of environmental substances as we move and breathe, however once air contamination passes a specific threshold it is recommended (and even mandatory in the workplace) to use some form of air filtration device.
When your job involves dealing with poor air quality or particle-filled air, it doesn’t mean you need to be inhaling said contaminated air. It means wearing the right equipment to keep yourself safe and healthy.
Most safety training will discuss air quality, respirators, and lung protection. Nevertheless, it is always helpful to revisit air-quality safety and reevaluate the workplace to ensure proper precaution and protection.
One particularly challenging workplace task is welding in an environment of poor-quality air. Such environments require relevant welding PPE, with the addition of proper air filtration equipment.
The combination of a welding helmet with respirator requires equipment specifically designed to work in tandem; a respirator alongside a helmet.
Here are some options for protection against contaminated air while welding.
Helmet and Disposable Particulate Respirator
The combination of the welding helmet with a basic disposable particulate respirator is the most common. Disposable respirators are what you generally see around a workplace where only specific tasks at specific times require air filtration. These products are made to use once or maybe twice before being thrown away (always consult the manufacturer’s instructions).
Disposable respirators (non-disposable will also meet this classification) generally bear the designation “N95”. That is, they meet health and safety standards for most workplace scenarios and filter out 95% of airborne particles. N95 respirators are the most common form of respirator since they provide adequate protection for most tasks.
A welding helmet combined with a disposable N95 respirator will provide adequate protection for most tasks encountered in the workplace, but the combination also has certain limitations and downsides.
- General Application–setup will work for most workplace situations.
- Cost Effective–disposable N95 respirators are low cost, provided they are used infrequently.
- Ideal for a large workforce with infrequent use–where other welding/air filtration combinations require more upfront cost, the disposable option offers adaptability. One worker needs a mast for a specific task one day, and another worker needs a mask for some other job the next. Disposable masks mean that each worker can have adequate protection against air contamination when they need it at a low cost.
- Adaptability–disposable N95s will fit comfortably under most welding helmets, making them a simple add-on for relevant tasks.
- Disposable–products break down fast. While acceptable for a single task over several hours or even a single day use, disposable respirators are not designed to maintain their integrity over time with regular use. It is recommended that used masks are discarded and new ones used if a task will take more than a single day..
- Saturation––in heavily contaminated environments with elements such as dust, masks quickly become saturated and require frequent replacement.
- Uncomfortable–Disposable N95s can be uncomfortable over several hours of use. Since they are usually held in place by elastic bands around the ears, they can become painful or irritating for the wearer after hours of use.
The disposable N95 respirator combined with a welding helmet is a good temporary solution. It is ideal for situations where air quality is only infrequently a factor in the workplace. If air filtration is regularly required while welding a more permanent solution might be in order.
Helmet and Non-Disposable Respirator Combination
The combination of a welding helmet with a non-disposable respirator is the second option. The helmet-non-disposable mask combination would provide adequate protection for any general-purpose situation, but is also customizable for situations that require more rigorous protection.
This combination can, however, become more complex since the user must be careful to choose a respirator that fits comfortably below the welding helmet. Generally speaking, non-disposable respirators will be more rigid than disposable ones. Rigidity allows them to have longer lifespans but can limit their use for welding purposes. So, should you opt for this combination, be sure to choose a respirator that fits comfortably under your helmet.
That said here are the relative pros and cons of this particular setup;
- Durable–the helmet-non-disposable respirator setup is ideal for scenarios where the individual regularly requires a respirator. Since reusable respirators are built for regular and repeated use they are more durable and in the long term are more cost-effective than disposable respirators.
- Customizable–most reusable respirators can be customized to the task. Usually, this means the use of different filter pads adapted to the specific air contaminant encountered. Some reusable respirators also provide the option for protection against gaseous contamination.
- Comfortable–reusable respirators are designed and built for regular and repeated use. Rather than simply looping behind the ears, reusable respirators generally attach behind the head for a comfortable and secure fit that does not grow painful over time.
- High Upfront Investment–reusable respirators wear a higher price tag than disposable options. This is why they are more suited for situations where workers will regularly encounter contaminated air. Combined with a welding helmet the price can mount fast.
- Individual–a box of disposable respirators will serve a large workforce on an as-needed basis. A reusable respirator will serve an individual well and last long.
- Rigidity–while it can be a feature for durability, rigidity can also become a bug when the respirator needs to adapt to specific helmet types. Again, be sure that your welding helmet is compatible with the reusable respirator you purchase.
Reusable respirators are highly customizable which enables them to serve in situations where prediction is provided beyond the N95 classification. Properly combined with a welding helmet they are more comfortable in the long term. Over a long enough period, they are also more cost-effective, provided of course the same individual is working on the same task.
Single Unit Helmet and Respirator
The final option is the welding helmet with a built-in respirator. These units are specifically designed and manufactured for scenarios where welding is required in contaminated environments. They bring all the benefits of specific design from comfort to functionality. They are customizable through the use of different filters. They are also highly durable.
For those who regularly work with contaminated air, these units are the best option. For those who require air filtration only sporadically, another option might make more sense.
- Specific Design–Helmets that contain respirators are simply the best option for welding in contaminated environments. They fit comfortably, are built for longevity, and provide flexibility and view alongside super protection. Because they are designed together, as a unit, there is no need to worry about the respirator working with the helmet.
- Quality–most helmet-respirator units boast high quality. They will last longer than the other options on this list and do their job well.
- All-Round Protection–built-in respirator helmets provide adequate protection for nearly any situation that might be encountered. With filter options for both particles and gas, they can be customized for all welding environments.
- Specificity–a helmet with a built-in respirator is a specific product. Most welding tasks will not require such rigorous protection.
- Price Tag–these units generally cost more. That’s why they’re a good option for those who regularly require a helmet/mask combination.
Built-in respirator helmets are built exactly for welding in air-contaminated environments. They are ideal for those whose jobs often require such protection. The adage “the right tool for the right job” is appropriately applied to these units. For some jobs, they’re exactly what you need.
Welders working in contaminated-air environments must wear some form of air filtration device. The choice of device depends ultimately on the environment and the specific situation. For one-time use, a disposable respirator can be combined with your welding helmet for a simple and cheap solution. If, however, regular use of a respirator is required a more permanent option might be more appropriate.
Regular-use options range in price comfort and functionality. A cheaper option is the purchase of a respirator to fit under your helmet. A pricey but probably more comfortable and secure option is the welding helmet with a built-in respirator.
Whatever your choice, always put safety first and above all ensure that your combination meets at least the minimum filtration and protection requirement.