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5 Signs it's Time to Upgrade to Powered Air Respirators

5 Signs it's Time to Upgrade to Powered Air Respirators

Posted on Tuesday, 13 August 2019 by Shane Carroll
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Have you been dreaming of a welding helmet with powered air, but you're not sure if it's really a NEED or a WANT? After all, combining a half-face respirator and a regular welding helmet provides all the protection you need right?....Wrong! Welding helmets with PAPR are more than just a luxury item... Here's 5 signs it's time to upgrade to an air fed welding helmet...

Ok so before we get to our top 5 signs it's time to upgrade to an air fed welding helmet, we better get a couple of things straight...

How dangerous are welding fumes?

The fact is, welding fumes are VERY DANGEROUS!!!
Did you know that ALL welding fumes are internationally classified as carcinogenic to humans? Scary huh? Those fumes you might be breathing in every day could be causing some serious damage that you might not notice for years!

So yeah, there's a reason WorkSafe has a whole lot of rules around all the safety gear and ventilation required in a welding workshop...those fumes could KILL YOU!!! If you're welding without the right protection, you could be putting yourself in some serious danger of short and long term health effects. In fact, you might be experiencing some of the symptoms right now without even being aware of it! Learn more about the dangers of welding fumes here.

What exactly is an air fed welding helmet?

An air-fed welding helmet is a welding helmet that has a powered air purifying respirator (PAPR) connected to it. Unlike your standard full or half-face respirators which rely on negative pressure to filter out contaminants as you breathe, an air-fed respirator uses positive pressure to push the dangerous fumes away while also providing a stream of cool, filtered clean air to the wearer.

Here's how it works:
  1. The blower unit contains changeable filters to block out contaminants.
  2. Powered by a battery, the unit filters air being sucked in, and pushes the clean air up through a hose and into the helmet.
  3. The blower unit is usually attached to a belt to be worn around the users waist. A good PAPR system will also include straps which can be attached and worn like a backpack to better balance the weight of the system.
  4. The helmet is loose fitting, meaning it does not require a tight seal around the face to keep out contaminants. A good positive pressure helmet should provide comfortable headgear that can be adjusted for a secure fit so it is not wobbling around during use.
  5. The filtered clean air is pushed into the helmet, providing the wearer with fresh, cool air which enables easier breathing, and reduces heat and moisture build up.
    Positive pressure works to keep airborne contaminants out of the helmet. With a loose seal around the neck of the helmet, and clean air being pushed in, there is more pressure inside the helmet than out. This means that particles and contaminants in the air will be pushed away from any potential entry points.

5 signs you should upgrade to an air-fed welding helmet

If it ain't broke, why fix it? There's tonnes of welders out there working with half or full face respirators that are doing the job just fine, so why would you change? The truth is, a good half-mask respirator CAN provide the protection needed when it is well maintained, worn correctly and has the correct filters attached. AND if this system works for the way you weld, then we agree - there's no need to change. HOWEVER there are times when it makes sense to invest in a PAPR welding helmet. Here are our top 5:

1. There's a lot of welding going on in the workshop

If there's a lot of welding happening in the workshop, chances are even with good ventilation there will be a lot of those dangerous fumes lingering in the atmosphere. As we've established above - those fumes are no joke, and can lead to serious health issues. So a good reason to upgrade to an air-fed welding helmet is that they are proven to provide up to 5x the level of protection than that of a half, or full-face respirator!

2. Welding takes up a large portion of your day

If you, or others in your workshop are often welding for 6-8 hours a day, you deserve to be comfortable as well as safe. It's easy to overheat while welding, especially when working in confined spaces. A good welding helmet with PAPR should be designed for all day wear, so the user will be as comfortable as possible. You'll also notice a big difference with the addition of cool, clean air being blown into the helmet. If you're looking for a reason to upgrade, it simply makes sense that being happy, safe and comfortable is likely to increase productivity.

3. There seems to be a lot of man-flu going around...

Are you, or others in the workshop getting sick kind of frequently? Some of the short term effects from exposure to welding fumes could easily be mistaken for hayfever (eye, nose, throat and lung irritation), a stomach bug (gastrointestinal issues) or the flu (chills, thirst, fever, muscle ache, fatigue, coughing). These issues are not to be taken lightly, as they can be quite serious and lead to long term health issues if they are actually a result of fume exposure.

In this case it is time to take a look at the whole workshop in terms of health & safety processes, ventilation, and PPE. As we've already said above - if you're after something that will provide respiratory protection better than anything else, a good PAPR helmet is the way to go!

4. Beards are cool, and some guys just won't shave every day

Being clean shaven is actually a pretty serious matter if you're using a full or half-face respirator for protection. The fact is, if you have any kind of facial hair or other things that can come between the respirator mask and the skin on your face, then a proper seal is not able to be formed - which decreases the protection level of the mask.

The great thing about an air-fed welding helmet, is it works on positive pressure, so the welding helmet is actually lose fitting, and there is no need to be clean shaven for it to perform. So wearers can have the best of both worlds!

5. You're constantly switching between welding, grinding and other tasks

Switching between tasks can be a pain if you're also having to take different PPE gear on and off, and unfortunately this can lead to complacency when it comes to safety. Just because something is a small task, doesn't make it any less dangerous. If you're someone who does a lot of switching between grinding, welding and other things, an air-fed flip front welding helmet can be a great solution. Simply keep the auto-darkening lens flipped up to have the clear view through the grinding lens for most tasks, and flip down to access the auto-darkening lens for welding. A good helmet will be designed for all day comfort, and with the cool, fresh clean air, there's no need to take the helmet off while on the workshop floor - so you can stay protected.

Cost Comparison

Worried about the costs of an air-fed helmet? Don't be. We've done a comparison between the initial and ongoing costs of a TECMEN TM1000 Flip Front Welding Helmet + PAPR, and 3M's Speedglas™ 9100xxi Flip Front Welding Helmet and a 3M Half Face Respirator 7500 and found that over time a welding helmet with PAPR can save you money! See the results below...

Product   Costs (ex GST)
Avg. Replacement Time  Annual Cost 
 TECMEN FreFlow Particle Filter
 TECMEN FreFlow Pre-Filter (5pk)
     Ongoing annual cost
 3M's Speedglas™ 9100xxi 
 3M Half Face Respirator 7500
 3M Particulate Filter 2135 P2/P3 (pair)
     Ongoing annual cost

These calculations are based on retail prices. Annual costs are calculated over 48 weeks to include 4 weeks annual leave.

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