Respiratory protection for welders
How do I know if I should wear a powered air purifying respirator or a supplied air respirator while welding?
Responding is Emily Janssen, marketing specialist for welding accessories and cutting division, Miller Electric Mfg. LLC, Appleton, WI.
Respirators are designed to keep weld operators compliant in the environments in which they work. OSHA’s respiratory protection standard (29 CFR 1910.134) requires employers to provide employees with respirators that are “applicable and suitable” for the purpose intended “when such equipment is necessary to protect the health of the employee.”
When evaluating your needs, it’s important to have an industrial hygienist sample the air in your work environment to determine whether the level of airborne contaminants is above permissible exposure levels. He or she will use this information, along with the Hierarchy of Controls, to determine which type of respiratory protection would work best for the specific application and the individual doing the job.
For most welding applications that require personal respiratory protection, a loose-fitting respirator solution is an ideal choice because it is integrated with the welding helmet. The most recent designs focus on user comfort, which promotes acceptance and can lead to greater compliance and productivity. Selection considerations:
Powered air purifying respirator
Air delivery method: PAPR systems use a fan to deliver filtered ambient air into a helmet or head seal. The user connects the helmet with head seal to a belt-mounted unit.
Features: Low-profile blower units, light battery packs and shoulder straps that evenly distribute the weight of the system. Some PAPR systems feature an integrated grinding shield that allows the operator to keep the full system on for a variety of tasks other than welding, aiding in compliance. Most PAPR systems include high-efficiency particulate air filters to remove airborne particles.
Advantages: Unrestricted mobility. Some heat stress relief as a result of additional air circulation inside the helmet.
Disadvantages: Higher consumable costs because of ongoing filter replacement. Battery life limitation.
Best use: Highly mobile welding environments.
Supplied air respirator
Air delivery method: SAR systems deliver Grade D breathing air that is filtered from a compressor, pump or cylinder. The user connects the helmet with head seal to a belt-mounted unit that is then connected to an air-purification panel using an air hose.
Features: Some SAR systems feature an integrated grinding shield that allows the operator to keep the full system on for a variety of tasks other than welding, aiding in compliance.
Advantages: Unlimited, regulated air supply. Maximum heat stress relief – up to 50º F cooler inside the helmet. Reduced consumable costs because of less filter change.
Disadvantage: The air hose can cause restricted mobility.
Best use: Working in a tight space and applications in which users need heat stress relief.
When deciding which respirator is best, consult a safety professional or industrial hygienist. It’s also highly recommended to complete a respiratory protection program to become informed on proper wear, use, cleaning, storage and maintenance for maximum performance.
Editor's note: This article represents the independent views of the author and should not be construed as a National Safety Council endorsement.