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How to Choose the Best Welding PPE

Welding is hot, dirty and dangerous work. This means choosing the right Welding PPE is absolutely essential.

Welders understand that personal protective equipment is not only crucial to staying safe in the workplace, it is essential to laying a good weld bead - so it is unlikely that you will see someone not wearing vital safety gear.

Are you tasked with buying or finding protective equipment? Here are some helpful tips for choosing the best PPE for Welding:

1. Head Protection

Head protection comes in the form of a helmet, a browguard, a head shield, and/or a welding mask to protect from UV radiation, infrared, molten metal, and impact. 

There are important considerations to keep in mind when choosing the correct headgear, such as the range of vision and the level of protection.

There are many varieties of welding head protection that are much lighter in weight than the old fashioned "nod" welding helmets. "Autoglass" welding visors detect the strike of a welding arc and automatically darken. These are recommended as they are not only easier on the neck, they are much safer for the eyes.

Also, there are other safety features that allow sparks and spatter to roll down the headgear and away from the collar instead of pooling. Others have cut-aways to prevent shoulder contact.

Most welders wear a balaclava type hood to prevent spatter rolling down their necks or burning their scalps. This is highly recommended - not just for safety, but also for comfort, as you can lay a much cleaner weld bead if you are not constantly flinching from the pin prick of molten spatter on your crown.

The head and face protection you need will vary by industry, but make sure the shields are approved under EN 379, EN 175, and/or EN 166 39B regulations.

2. Eye Protection

Even though they will be wearing a face shield or welding helmet, welders will need goggles or a face shield/visor for, dressing & fettling their welds and for the grinding done during weld-prep.

All eye protection has varying safety features such as scratch resistance, anti-mist and fog, adjustable fit and is generally quite lightweight. EN (ISO) 166, EN (ISO) 167 & EN (ISO) 168 would be pertinent.

It is not just the welders themselves who need eye protection, anyone and everyone working or visiting the area where welding is ongoing should be wearing some form of protection from the light of a welding arc.

Photokeratitis (best known as Arc-Eye or Welder's Flash) is an unpleasant condition. Similar to getting a sunburn on the outer skin of the cornea, it is caused by the UV light of the arc and too easy to get, even from a distance.

The intense light of an arc can even burn scars into the back of the retina, leading to permanent disturbance of vision.

Make sure your goggles, overspecs or visors meet these safety standards: EN 166 1F, EN 166, EN 176, and/or EN 169.

3. Hand Protection

Welding PPE gloves should be robust and hard wearing for full safety. The gloves should be approved to BS EN 388:1994, BS EN 407:1994, and BS EN 12477 standards.

Welding PPE gloves are often made of Kevlar, sheepskin, or leather. Welding gauntlets will cover the forearm and have speciality linings.

It is quite common to see a MIG welder using just one gauntlet for his resting arm, and perhaps a rigger glove or an anti-abrasion glove for his trigger hand. Yes this gives a better feel and control over the torch and trigger, but it is a waste of a perfectly good welding glove... hence Portwest creating the single ambidextrous welding gauntlet.

4. Respiratory Protection

In February 2019, HSE issued a Safety Alert regarding a "Change in Enforcement Expectations for Mild Steel Welding Fume".

This followed new scientific evidence from the International Agency for Research on Cancer that exposure to mild steel welding fume can cause lung cancer and possibly kidney cancer in humans.

Welding fume is subject to the Control of Substances Hazardous to Health Regulations (COSHH) - As such, employers should now provide welding employees with Local Extraction Ventilation and/or RPE (respiratory protective equipment).

The type of RPE you will need depends on the kind of fumes given off by the specific type of welding being carried out. P3 masks would likely be the minimum requirement for welding fume, but an air-fed powered respirator would be needed for welding materials such as Aluminium where Ozone would be a real health issue.

Correct fit testing, training, maintenance, use, and records must be kept for safety.

There are two main types of respirators for welding: powered respirators and valve respirators. Powered respirators are most often used for professional welders and provide the most safety as they force filtered air through the system to aid in breathing.

The downside is that they can often be heavy and require more strain on the head by having to tighten head straps, but new designs ease some of these concerns. Valve respirators look like face masks and have a filter technology.

Most are metal free, have adjustable head straps for a secure fit, and come with preformed shapes. Exhalation valves often reduce temperature and humidity. Carbon filters can protect against dust, oil-based mists, water-based mists, metallic fume, ozone, and odours. Some are flame retardant and clog resistant.

5. Body Protection

Clothing depends on the duration and the purpose of the welding activity. Covering the whole body with flame retardant material is a must. 

Clothing must meet EN ISO 11611: 2007 regulation, a standard for welding clothing. Clothing must be anti static and seams are also tested for anti-static and flame spread for maximum protection.

Welding protection is tested to withstand repeated washings (as stated by the manufacturer) to ensure that it is safe from day one to the fiftieth wash. Any clothing that is no longer safe should be replaced.

Clothing protection can range from light spatter to heavy spatter. Light spatter includes gas, TIG, micro plasm, brazing, spot, and MMA welding.

Heavy splatter includes MMA covered electrode, MAG, MIG, self shielded flux core arc, plasma cutting, gouging, oxygen cutting, and thermal spraying welding types. Make sure you are wearing the correct rated clothing for your particular uses.

Protective garments range from jackets to coveralls.

6. Foot Protection

For foot protection, welders need welding boots and optional gaiters. Safety footwear is important as is comfort and protection.

All footwear should be tested to EN ISO 20345 standards and should have an anti-static, anti-shock, cushioning, and heat-resistant properties. They should withstand applied heat to 300°C. Other nice features are moisture wicking properties, dual-density rubber soles, and quick release fasteners.

Heavy duty leather gaiters can be worn over work shoes to protect against spatter.

7. Workplace Safety

For added workplace safety, welding environments should have welding PPE curtains, smooth glass cloth, and antifatigue mats. Some curtains come in portable varieties to be moved to and from work areas and in different colours. Smooth glass cloth is intended for short-term use up to 600°C and can be used up to 400°C.

There are two different cloths that have many benefits, glass cloth and Fortaglas Weldstop cloths.

A Glass cloth is ideal for thermal insulation, fire protection/blankets, welding screens to protect against sparks, smoke curtains, and electrical and hose insulation.

Fortaglas Weldstop cloths are heat resistant to withstand oxygen rich flame penetration over 1500’c. It is resistant to molten metal and metal droplets that weigh up to 70 grams. Also, it can be contained and cooled on the fabric without penetration. It is abrasion resistant, and rough handling does not lessen its effectiveness.

They make anti fatigue mats out of rubber and repel sparks and hot metal shards.

Conclusion

Different welding activities require you to wear different types of protection for your head, eyes, hands, body, feet, and respiration. You also need to consider workplace safety as well as PPE.

When deciding what to buy, research the positives and negatives to see which best fit your requirements. It is important to make sure the personal protective equipment meets the correct safety standards.

Also make sure you understand how to look after your personal protective equipment because each piece has different ways of doing this. Some are harder than others. Replace if it is no longer safe.

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