In 2006, researchers from the Helsinki University of Technology, Laboratory for Heating Ventilating and Air Conditioning in Finland, and the Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory Environmental Energy Technologies Division in Berkeley, Calif., published a study that suggests that workplace productivity decreases by about 1 percent for every degree above 71.6 degrees Fahrenheit or below 69.8 degrees Fahrenheit. Granted, this was a study in the office environment; however, I can attest that as a welder, if I am not too hot or too cold, I can work comfortably, allowing me to stay focused on the task at hand rather than on my personal comfort. Download the case study.
The right tools for welding go beyond just machines, guns, torches, and filler metals. It’s the people that make the difference. Keeping welders protected and comfortable results in a safer, more productive work environment. Equipment manufacturers are asking welders for their feedback to design products that keep welders safe, while also enhancing comfort and making it easier to do their jobs.
My personal favorite advancement in helmet technology is a feature that allows the lens to track “arc-on time.” This allows a welding engineer to better determine the costs as well as improve efficiency in the welding operation. Some of the newest helmets also feature a digital clock display, along with the ability to set an alarm or timer (great for the operator to be reminded of significant events throughout the day, such as the time to remove a part from a preheat operation or, more importantly, lunch).
Another recent advancement in auto-darkening helmet technology involves the ability to electromagnetically detect the welding arc. Historically, welding helmets relied only on the use of optical sensors that picked up the light of the arc. By adding magnetic sensors that pick up on the magnetic field of the arc, helmets now respond more consistently in tight access or bright light situations. The technology significantly improves performance when welding outside on sunny days, enabling the lens to turn to the welding shade when the arc is struck regardless of exposure to sunlight. This eliminates random and uncontrollable lens darkening issues commonly experienced with older electronic welding helmets.
Premium auto-darkening helmets feature the ability to respond to the welding arc and darken within 1/20,000 of a second for optimal protection (entry-level lenses are often rated at 1/3,600 of a second). The speed at which the lens can respond can provide more comfort to a welder in applications where a significant amount of arc strikes are made throughout the day. It should be noted, however, that regardless of whether or not the electronic lens darkens, the welder’s eyes are still protected from Ultraviolet Radiation through the polarization in the electronic lens. When the lens does not darken, the welder’s eyes are trying to adjust to a bright light similar to turning on a light in the middle of the night and that leads to eyestrain, not flash burn.
Even with advancements such as larger liquid crystal display (LCD) panels; customizable settings such as adjustable sensitivity; various shade options (most adjust from shade #9 through #13); and delay controls and timers, today’s auto-darkening helmets often times weigh less than passive helmets. A lighter weight helmet minimizes strain on the user's neck, reducing fatigue and increasing comfort. Welders will notice a big difference between a helmet that weighs one pound versus one that weighs two pounds. While one pound might not seem like much, the welder’s head and neck will appreciate the difference.
For heavier industrial applications where welders are consistently welding at high amperages (300+ amps) for long periods, a helmet with a reflective color, such as silver, can help to reflect the radiant heat, providing heat stress relief for welders. In addition, higher amperage welding applications can damage lens electronics within welding helmets. Some welding helmets feature an aluminum heat shield that protects the lens in high amperage applications.
Added padding and improved the balance within the design make helmets more comfortable to wear all day. Proper balance is one of the most important features to take notice of as it reduces fatigue on the neck and can make the helmet feel lighter than it actually is.
To prevent safety issues related to crane usage or where there is a risk of falling objects, many shops and job sites require a hard-hat to be worn at all times. To help the welder adhere to hard-hat requirements, the majority of helmet manufacturers offer an easy-to-install hard-hat adapter that works with a welder’s existing welding helmet.
To improve efficiency when a welder is required to grind using a face shield, new helmet models feature ANSI-approved integrated grinding shields. This feature provides maximum protection and versatility — allowing welders to switch between welding and grinding without any downtime. Without this feature, welders have to stop working, remove their welding helmet, put on a grinding shield and then begin grinding.
Changes to OSHA’s hexavalent chromium standard has driven companies, especially those handling stainless steel, to seek out weld fume management solutions to comply with stated regulations. Increased discussion around manganese weld fume has also prompted companies to consider offering solutions such as respirators to protect their workforce. An example of a respirator paired with a welding helmet is a powered air purifying respirator (PAPR). A PAPR uses a blower to pass ambient air through a high-efficiency particulate air (HEPA) filter to remove contaminants and supply purified air in a sealed welding helmet. This removes at least 99.97 percent of airborne particles 0.3 micrometers in diameter. In addition to removing contaminants, constant air movement within the welding helmet offers heat stress relief and helps minimize fogging of safety glasses as well as the helmet lens. For welding applications where hard-hat use is required, PAPRs are paired with hard hats to create a complete system. In these situations, the hard hat is paired with a head seal (to provide the necessary seal around the wearer’s head) and then a welding helmet is attached to the hard hat.
These recent technology advancements in welding helmets not only help to protect welders from lost-time or work-related injury, but they increase productivity by increasing comfort levels. Regardless of the type of head protection a welder chooses, it is critical to make sure that the helmet, PAPR or other such personal protective equipment (PPE) is properly suited for the welding application at hand and also provides the appropriate level of protection. Welding distributors and helmet manufacturers are both good resources for assisting in the best selection and fit.