Air fed masks are a great way of delivering fresh, filtered air to the user whilst protecting from harmful fumes and gases. Essentially, they are a welding helmet with a built-in respirator. Sometimes referred to as PAPR welding helmets (Powered Air Purifying Respirator) they work by utilising a filtration unit, worn on your back. The blower / filter takes in atmospheric air and passes it through consumable filters. Clean air then passes up through a flexible tube to the top of the helmet and over the user’s head and face. The purge of air created, keeps fumes, dust and particulates from entering the helmet.
The use of an air fed welding helmet is not restricted to the work place. Home users carrying out a lot of welding, or of materials which create harmful fumes should also consider it.
UPDATE FEB 19: A HSE bulletin published in February 19 now enforces that anyone welding of any type in the workplace must use RPE (Respiratory Protective Equipment) of some form. Simply put, welding indoors should be carried out with extraction measures AND RPE. Outside welding where extraction would be unsuitable, should be carried out using RPE. Further details can be viewed on our HSE welding fume article.
Air fed welding helmet vs helmet and additional face mask
An alternative to a forced air welding helmet is the use of disposable masks or respirators which can fit under the welding helmet. Whilst these can be cost effective for minimal use, the costs of replacement can escalate to the point where a PAPR air fed helmet is cheaper to run.
In hot conditions often associated with welding, an air fed hood can be more comfortable and less claustrophobic. Ever tried wearing a rubber type mask for prolonged periods? It’s not nice.
As an employer it’s also worth considering whether the face fitted RPE is fit for the fumes created and whether that mask is going to be “fit tested”. The HSE guidance on this is that a “competent” person should be tasked with ensuring fit testing is conducted using guidance from the British Safety Industry Federation (http://fit2fit.org/). There are companies that specialise in training staff to become “fit test competent”. Monitoring and documentation of masks issued, training of their use and the face fitting process is also good practice.
Stubble and beards…. Tight fitting masks also suffer from anything which may compromise a seal to the face. An air fed mask overcomes this problem as it does not rely on an air tight seal to work.
In extremely tight spaces, the extra size of an air fed helmet blower may mean that under helmet masks may be better suited.
Sold on buying an air fed welding helmet? Here are a few considerations when choosing a suitable unit:
Weight – As with buying any welding helmet, generally lighter is better. Prolonged use of a heavier helmet can cause neck or back ache
Consumable costs – The costs of replacing filters and lenses are the only real running cost of an air fed helmet. It’s worth researching the price of the blowers and helmet filters prior to purchasing. A cheap air fed welding helmet may not necessarily have cheap consumables. It’s also worth considering whether parts are readily accessible in case something does get damaged. Our Weltek air fed masks have all the parts you would need in case of a breakage.
Grinding system – A nice feature is to have a grinding function on an air fed welding helmet. Some air fed helmets have grinding functions which are used through the welding lens itself. The auto darkening lens remains in a state that’s light enough to see for tasks like grinding. Other helmets, like the Weltek Navitek S4 and S13 true colour, have a flip up welding visor. Without taking the helmet off, you can flip up the auto darkening helmet and a clear visor continues to protect your face from grinding sparks and fumes whilst maintaining your air supply. The flip up type offer a better field of vision and in the words of one employer “will stop the employees taking them off”.
Switching speed and arc sensors – Auto darkening welding helmets work by sensing the change in light levels and adjusting the lenses shade. Its worth investing in quality to protect your eyes from the light created by the welding arc. Better quality welding helmets will generally have more sensors and quicker switching speeds from light to dark.
Standard or True colour – Recently added to the market and very popular are true colour welding helmets. A true colour helmet has the benefit of almost “naked to the eye” views as opposed to the green or blueish lenses previously seen on welding helmets.
Why consider an air fed welding helmet?
Welding and grinding processes give off a mixture of both gases and fine particulate matter, both of which can be harmful when inhaled. Without wearing respiratory protective equipment (RPE) a welder is exposed to these substances. The amount and severity of the fumes that the welder is exposed to has a number of variables. These include which welding process is being used, which material is being welded, the environment it is being welded in, exposure concentration and time and the protection measures in place. Let’s take a quick look at each of the above-mentioned variables:
Welding process – TIG welding produces the least amount of welding fume out of the common processes. Due to the burning of flux during MMA welding, the process creates the most fumes. MIG welding creates slightly more than TIG and plasma cutting produces slightly less fumes than MMA. A useful diagram showing this can be seen on the following website http://www.hse.gov.uk/welding/fume-welding.htm.
Material being welded – The fumes created when working with certain materials are particularly bad for your health. Perhaps the most well-known are galvanised materials which, when welded produce toxic unpleasant gases. Other materials may not give off unpleasant fumes at the time but concentrated or prolonged exposure can be damaging to your health long term.
Environment – Environment and concentration of exposure go hand in hand. If welding in a confined area for example, concentration of exposure to welding fumes will be greater than welding outside.
Protection measures – Protection measures to exposure needn’t be paid for, expensive solutions. Thinking about the welding environment and natural ventilation can be a protection measure in itself. Other protection measures include the use of RPE, local environment ventilation units (LEVs) and changing welding process.
TBWS are able to supply a range of air fed welding masks as well as a range of fume extraction solutions. If you require advice or a fume extraction system one of our friendly sales team will happily assist 01276 505012.
Note: information collated on the 25/09/18 from HSE and other related sources. The information is intended as a guide and up to date information should be sought when putting health and safety measures in place in your work place.