Welders understand that the fumes and gases produced from their work can lead to serious illness. The danger and amount of exposure to the welders depend on the type of work being done, the rod, filler metals, base metals, coatings, contaminants, as well as the amount of ventilation and respiration protection.
We simply don't know everything there is to know about protecting workers from welding fumes. However, there are some common precautions that can be taken to protect workers from injury and illness.
Welding fumes are basically a mixture of metallic oxides, fluorides, and silicates. Not so wonderful to be breathing into your lungs by themselves, but since we have to live and work in the real world, there are other considerations such as the paint, rust inhibitors, solvents, and other coatings on the welded metal which can create additional dangers.
With proper precaution, the amount of gas and vapor can be eliminated, or at least reduced to a high degree. Ventilation is always an essential control option. Whether you are ventilating the entire area or can drill down to a very specific confined space, replacing dirty air with clean is often the first go-to procedure. Many shops require ventilation that meets UL specifications such as the RamFan UB20 with ducting.
Another option is respiratory protection. Fumes produced by basic welding of iron or steel can often be blocked by wearing a simple N95 mask such as the 3M 8212 N95 Welding Particulate Respirator or as a step up, an N99 mask such as the Moldex Premium Disposable Welding Respirator. Both of these have exhalation valves to keep the mask cool. However, these types of disposable masks are only good for simple welding. The 8233 n100 mask is for those who want the highest rated by NIOSH filter efficiency in a mask. It is approved for lead abatement, metal fumes produced from welding, certain radioactive particulate material, and non-oil containing mists.
Once you start arc welding, the ozone created by the electrical arc produces fumes that require a more robust system of respiratory protection. Since the face shields worn to protect from infrared restrict the type of respirator and cartridge or filter that can be used, many welders prefer soft P100 filters like the 3M 2097 Particulate Mold Filter P100 because they have a layer of charcoal to absorb fumes and organic vapors and also can block far more of the particles carried on the air. The 2097s can be worn on the 3M 6000 Series half-face masks or the 3M 7500 Series which is made of soft silicon and is more comfortable when worn for long periods of time.
Even more sophisticated breathing systems exist. The Pureflo Welding Helmet is a powered air respirator with Shade 10 or Auto-darkening features, face, eyes, and head protection. But at a cost. Airline Respirators are also an option, but may not be appropriate for all worksites.
In the end, every site contains its own hazards, as well as the best solutions for keeping welders and other workers in the area safe. If you have questions about the best protection from welding fumes and gases, feel free to give us a call or visit us online at pksafety.com.
Check out our blog post on welding protection: WELDER SAFETY TIPS: HOW TO AVOID EXPOSURE TO WELDING HAZARDS.