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When you’ve been wearing a welding respirator long enough, you’d start wondering whether you’ve been wearing it for too long. Most respirators can be worn for hours with no problem. That has been true for a long time. Any seasoned welder can attest to the reliability of most respirators on the market, at least the ones commonly bought. Read more on what we consider to be the Best Welding Respirators.
When it comes to the question of how long you can wear a welding respirator, the answer depends on two things:
- Occupational concerns
- Work environment
There’s really nothing wrong with using your respirator for extended hours so long as it’s working. Otherwise, what’s the point? It’s worth noting that welders aren’t the only workers who use respirators. People in other industries do wear respirators as part of mitigating occupational hazards. Fact is that they use N95 respirators continuously for several hours.
In environments where toxic fumes and gases mix with ambient air, a reliable breathing apparatus is your best friend. Knowing the sheer problem of workers having to work in hazardous environments for long hours, manufacturers have made sure respirators withstand long hours of operation.
Continuous use of respirators can be halted by hygienic or practical concerns. In healthcare workplaces, a respirator may be discarded when it becomes contaminated. Such concern isn’t typical in metal fabrication shops, wherein the usual reason a welder needs to take off the respirator is the need to pee or eat or do something else. Basically, you really want to ask how long you can keep the filter, which takes us to the next question.
When should you change the respirator filter?
There’s really no definite answer to this. It all depends on how often you’re using the respirator, because the more often you use it, the more dirt it gets. That means the more often you work, the more often you need to check your filter. Another factor that affects how often you need to replace the filter is your work environment. If you’re working in dirty, dusty environments, then consequently your filters will get a fair beating.
Respirators use different types of filters. What these filters have in common is the ability to remove solid or liquid aerosols or particulates from the air you breathe. Filters are assigned different letters: N, P, and R. N filters are used to trap non-oil solid particulates, while R and P filters trap any particulate matter and aerosols. Regardless of the type of filter you’re using, OSHA recommends replacement of filters when you notice having difficulty breathing. That’s a sign of debris buildup. Also, if you notice that the filter is already dirty or damaged, it’s time to replace it (1).
What about cartridges?
Respirators with cartridges work to remove toxic gases from the air you breathe. The molecules of gases (e.g. argon, carbon dioxide, and carbon monoxide) are too small to be filtered out by mechanical filters. Just like filters, cartridges eventually become filled up with substances they’re absorbing throughout your work sessions. When cartridges and filters become filled with debris and substances, fumes and vapors start passing through to compromise your health.
When you notice chemical and solvent smells while wearing your welding respirator, it’s time to replace the filters and cartridges. Also, cartridges come with end-of-service-life indicators, which change color once it’s time to replace them.
Keeping Welding Respirators in Good Condition
Wash your face before wearing your respirator. Ideally, you shouldn’t allow your welding mask to come in contact with sweat or dirt. Hence, it makes sense to wash your face before you put it on. Bacteria from your skin can grow on the surface of your mask and cause irritation next time you use it.
The other way to prevent skin irritation caused by dirty respirators (and welding helmets) is cleaning. All the dirt and substances on the respirator need to go, unless you also want these things to cause premature deterioration of the device. Cleaning is a basic aspect of maintenance to prolong the life of your protective gear as well as prevent the nasty repercussions of grimy equipment.
Ideally, a person should have exclusive personal protective equipment. Sharing of welding helmets, masks, and respirators is unhygienic, especially considering we are still in the midst of a pandemic. Nonetheless, if sharing respirators is inevitable, it’s crucial that they be disinfected before anyone else wears them.
Storage of respirators determines partly their actual lifespan. The purpose of keeping your welding respirators in a clean, dry environment is to keep them away from moisture, dust, and chemicals. Be careful that the facepiece and exhalation valve aren’t deformed upon storage.
Welding respirators can be worn for as long as you need them to. Although they’re made to work for 8-12 continuous hours of working, the average welder hardly ever works uninterruptedly that long. Nonetheless, you can count on a good quality respirator for long hours of welding, especially in environments wherein fumes and gases can build up. You’re probably more concerned about how many months a respirator can last. Again, there’s no absolute answer, as its usable life depends on how you take care of it. You can, of course, prolong its life by replacing filters and cartridges when they become dirty or saturated with substances. Nonetheless, anytime you notice broken straps or face seals, that’s when you buy a new respirator.