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What is a Respiratory Mask and Why Do Welders Need Them?

What is a Respiratory Mask - Alphaweld 

It’s impossible to avoid the production of welding gases and dust particles when welding or grinding any metal. However, it is possible to dramatically reduce your exposure to harmful agents for a long and healthy welding career

Read on to learn about the dangers of welding fumes and how respiratory masks can protect you from respiratory hazards.

The Dangers of Welding Fumes

Welding, cutting, and grinding metal creates metal dust particles and extremely harmful welding fumes. As you weld, the molten metal evaporates metal oxides mixed with the shielding gas and fumes from burned welding fluxes. 

The International Agency for Research on Cancer classifies welding fumes as Group 1 carcinogens, meaning that they are carcinogenic to humans without a doubt. Studies show that regular exposure to welding fumes can put welders at an increased risk of lung and kidney cancers. Besides cancer, long-term exposure to welding fumes can cause Parkinson’s disease, stomach ulcers, heart disease, reduced fertility, silicosis, siderosis, asthma, and nervous system damage. 

Welding fumes can also produce immediate health issues like eye, throat, and nose irritation, nausea and dizziness, welding fume fever, pulmonary infections, and life-threatening asphyxiation. 

The table below outlines just some of the most dangerous welding fume compounds, their source, and their adverse health effects. We strongly recommend wearing a respiratory mask when welding these materials, even if welding outdoors.

Fume compound Source Health hazard
Hexavalent chromium Cr(VI) Stainless steel Highly toxic, causes cancer, and can damage the eyes, skin, lungs, nose, and throat
Zinc Galvanised steel Welding fume fever, which can manifest as severe flu-like symptoms
Cadmium oxides Cadmium-plated metals and steels
containing cadmium in their alloy
Respiratory system irritation, chest pains, and kidney damage. It’s a suspected carcinogen.
Beryllium Found in copper, aluminium, magnesium,
and electrical contacts
Welding fume fever and damage to the respiratory tract. Carcinogen.
Copper Monel alloys, brass, bronze, and
some welding rods
Welding fume fever and eye, nose, and throat irritation
Lead Solder, bronze, and brass alloys Destructive effects on the nervous system, digestive system, kidneys, and mental capacity
Fluorides Typical electrode coating and flux material Irritation of eyes, nose, and throat. Long-term exposure can cause bone and joint issues and excess fluid in the lungs.

There are many other hazardous compounds you can be exposed to when welding: inexperienced welders or DIY enthusiasts may use brake cleaners to pre-clean a joint. However some brake cleaners contain compounds that form an extremely poisonous gas called phosgene when exposed to the welding arc.

Phosgene can induce severe damage to the lungs, skin, and eyes, and cause death, even in small quantities.

Ultraviolet radiation from the welding arc can also react with oxygen and nitrogen in the air to form ozone and nitrogen oxides, which are deadly when inhaled at large doses.

There are many other examples of just how easy it is to inhale something while welding that can cause immediate or chronic health hazards. 

How Can Respiratory Masks Protect You?

Respiratory masks can filter out welding fumes and gases and significantly improve the inhaled air quality. However, when welding anything exotic (other than mild steel), you should know what metal you are welding, its coating type, and the electrode composition (flux + filler).

Depending on the welding mask, the welded material, and varying job conditions, you may need to use another filter type to get adequate protection. 

The 3M Half face 7500 series reusable respirator kit includes the 3M 7500 series reusable mask with a Cool Flow™ valve, which minimises heat build-up. The kit comes with the 3M 2128 GP2 filters that protect against welding fume particulates, organic vapours (with low vapour pressure), and nuisance-level* acid gas.

The 3M 7500 series respirator is very comfortable to wear, thanks to the soft silicone face seal and proprietary 3M Cool Flow™ technology. Alternatively, the 3M 6000 series respirator is slightly lighter, which could be a deciding factor for welders who weld all day. Both support the 3M 2128 GP2 filters and a wide variety of other filters from 3M for protection from specific hazards. 

It’s essential to keep in mind that no filter protects you from every type of hazard. However, the 3M 2128 GP combined with the 3M 6000 or 7500 series breathing mask provides excellent protection for most welding jobs, and they are approved to AS/NZS 1716 standard for respiratory protective devices. 

Need Additional Help with Welding Respiratory Protection?

If you need more advice in selecting the correct welding respirator and filter type, Alphaweld is here to help. To speak with our team, give us a call on (08) 9456 8000 and our experts will gladly assist you. 

* Nuisance levels are those below the Workplace Exposure Standard (WES).