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Why Face Respirators are so Important for the Welding Process

Date: 22-01-2021

In our previous blog we discussed top tips for using a welding fume extractor safely. In this blog, we will discuss the importance of disposable and non-disposable face respirators in providing lung protection to welders.

Why is the Welding Process Dangerous?

Welding produces harmful metal fumes that are easily inhaled. There are many potential health risks associated with inhaling metal fumes, and unfortunately some of them are fatal. For this reason, the greatest level of care - from implementing fume extractors to wearing personal protective equipment and ensuring proper training - must be undertaken by each and every workplace involved in welding.

Some of the most common conditions caused by metal fume inhalation include cancer (caused by exposure to nickel and chromium), chronic lung disease (calcium exposure in particular is associated with emphysema), manganism (a Parkinson’s-like disease from manganese exposure), among many others.

The effect of harmful gasses isn’t always immediately noticeable, which can result in relaxed behaviour around welding sites. This is never advisable. The International Agency for Research on Cancer classifies welding fume as a Class 1 carcinogen. Welding metals and the substances they emit should always be handled and controlled following the latest safety standards.

Finally, it is important to carry out regular air testing, even when wearing a highly effective respirator. Currently, the Workplace Exposure TWA (Time Weighted Average) for aluminium is set at 5 mg/m3.

This means that over an 8 hour working day, over a five day working week, the amount of welding fumes in the air must not exceed 5 milligrams per cubic metre of air.

Standards for Working with Metal Fume in Australia

Safe Work Australia published the Code of Practice on Welding Processes (CoP). The CoP details how a person can effectively manage welding hazards via control measures such as ventilation, personal protective equipment (PPE) and maintenance. In the hierarchy of controls that keep welders safe, respiratory masks are not the first line of defence, but they are an invaluable extra layer of protection from toxic fumes.

In particular, half face respirators are used to provide particulate filtering and are designed to be tight fitting and worn under welding helmets. However, because half face respirators work by negative pressure, wherein air is pulled through the filter when the wearer breathes in, welders must be fit tested annually to ensure that they can safely breathe and withstand the exertion.

Furthermore, as respirators require a tight seal in order to be effective in filtering out harmful gasses and particles, welders are required to be clean-shaven. You can read more about respirator fit test requirements here

Making the Right Respirator Choice

It’s vital to choose the right respirator for your job and environment, otherwise your respirator won’t effectively filter out all the hazardous substances in the air. Knowing your hazard type (e.g. particulate, gas, or vapour) is key to making the right respirator choice. Your respirator should also be appropriate for levels of substances you have tested for, as per the workplace exposure standard (WES) set out by Safe Work Australia. Even if your exposure levels are below the WES, wherein respirators aren’t legally required, you may still want to wear a respirator for extra personal protection, as exposure levels can change while working, and even small amounts of welding fume exposure can accumulate over time and become dangerous for your health.

There are many different kinds of respirators available but they can be broadly divided into either disposable or reusable categories. At Alphaweld we stock both types of respirators, built to the highest possible standard. Our range includes disposable dust masks, disposable and reusable welding-specific respirators, respirator kits and respirator filters.

Shop our Premium Range of Welding Respirators

Alphaweld have been supplying premium welding products for over 14 years. We will be happy to help you find the right face respiratory product to keep you and your business safe, comfortable and compliant. Browse our online store or contact us for assistance.