Show Welders You Care, with ADF Helmets

By: Kristy Giebe

Kristy Giebe is product manager, welding, Kimberly-Clark Professional, Roswell, GA:

Tuesday, March 1, 2011
Operators performing welding, soldering and brazing suffer
ADF Helmets
more work-related injuries than do those in most other occupations, according to the U.S. Department of Labor’s Bureau of Labor Statistics, which points to welding torches as the source of more than 1200 eye injuries per year.

Anyone who welds for a living knows the importance of proper personal protection. A properly worn, high-quality welding helmet protects the wearer’s eyes from harmful ultraviolet (UV) and infrared (IR) radiation during the welding process. Without proper protection, welders may suffer from arc burn, arc flash or welding flash—similar to sunburn of the eye.

Eye damage can occur quite a distance a from the welding task, and can happen in less than a second of exposure, so welders are not the only workers at risk—bystanders would be wise to wear appropriate protection as well. In addition, eye injuries during welding aren’t limited to arc burn. Other risks come from flying metal, slag from chipping, dirt and particles from grinding. The U.S. Consumer Product Safety Commission estimates that 10,800 eye injuries related to welding equipment are treated in hospital emergency rooms every year.

Protection is Not an Option

The U.S. Occupational Safety & Health Administration (OSHA) is clear: At no time should the welding arc be observed without eye protection. The agency also requires, under Standard 29 CFR1910.133, that employers ensure that each affected employee uses appropriate eye or face protection when exposed to eye/face hazards typical in the welding process, including flying particles, molten metal, chemical gases or vapors, or potential injurious light radiation.

The cost of not providing employees with the appropriate personal protective equipment (PPE), in the form of welding helmets, is staggering. While figures specific to welders are not readily available, it is estimated that workplace eye injuries in general cost more than $300 million/yr. in lost productiontime, medical expenses and worker compensation.

Like many companies trying to make a profit these days, weld shops are acutely aware of the price of providing the appropriate PPE for employees. The shortage of qualified welders—as older workers retire and fewer young people pursue a career in welding—means that weld shops face increasing pressure to produce more higher-quality welds the first time, every time, with fewer resources.

Thus, as profit margins become squeezed, it’s more important than ever that metalformers select PPE that not only provides adequate protection, but that also helps improve welder productivity. This need for added productivity may be particularly important for welders with limited skills, who are more likely to produce defective welds and inhibit overall shop productivity.

Protect and Produce

When evaluating welding helmets for protection and productivity, consider the following design and functionality features.

• Choose a helmet constructed from lightweight materials, to increase welder comfort.

• Select the appropriate filter shade based on the welding process and amperage. OSHA (29 CFR 1910.252) and the American Welding Society (AWS) offers a Guide for Shade Numbers (AWS F2.2). The organizations recommend starting with a filter one

Protect and Produce
shade too dark to see the weld zone, and try lighter shades until the welder gains a sufficient view of the weld zone without going below the minimum shade required.

• Whenever radiation or flying particles and spatter are a hazard, select welding helmets that protect the face, forehead, neck and ears. Additional protection may be needed for overhead welding.

• If selecting a welding helmet with an auto-darkening filter (ADF), look for one that has a response-darkening time of 0.4 msec, as the human eye cannot perceive anything below a millisecond.

• Ensure that the helmet remains seated comfortably on the top of the wearer’s head (not too far back) and stays locked in when in the up position. It should be able to be nodded down gently, but should not fall down if the welder turns his head.

• Look for adjustable headgear that allows the welder to create the most comfortable position for each welding task (looking up vs. looking down) while maintaining a good line of vision.

• Consider the welder’s experience when selecting the size of the viewing field. For example, a smaller viewing area may help inexperienced welders focus better on the weld zone.

• Don’t forget about style. The good news for employers and employees alike is that the safety supply market offers a wide range of helmets with specially designed graphics that let the wearer express his individuality and allow each employee to be instantly recognizable on a crowded shop floor.

ADF vs. Passive Lens Technology

The main cause of eye injury during welding is failing to wear the appropriate PPE, so it’s important to select welding helmets that employees will want to wear. This goal likely will lead metalformers to invest in helmets with ADFs rather than passive filters. According to AWS, there are several disadvantages of fixed-shade passive welding helmets.

• Fixed-shade filters only provide reliable protection if they are worn in the down position. Unfortunately, whenever there is no arc the welder must raise his helmet to see, to start a new weld or to inspect a completed weld. This increases the possibility of injury and can cause a welder to keep his helmet up until the arc is started, further increasing the chances of arc-flash injury.

• There is an increased potential for neck injury or muscle strain from continually nodding the helmet up or down.

• It’s harder to see the precise location of the arc start, causing out-of-position starts that can inhibit productivity.

AWS also points out some advantages of ADFs.

• ADFs allow continuous visibility of the workpiece and arc zone before, during and after striking an arc, and without raising the helmet. This allows welders a better opportunity to achieve a perfect weld the first time, for improved productivity.

• The need for nodding the helmet up or down is eliminated, reducing strain and possible neck injury and reducing the chance for eye injury from flying particles or arc rays.

• Weld starts are likely to be more accurate.

Payback Comes Quickly

Providing welders with the appropriate ADF welding helmet can help avoid medical and worker’s compensation costs associated with acute eye injuries, as well as OSHA fines. But it also can help avoid costs associated with longer-term injuries, specifically “welder’s neck,” which may result from poor posture while welding or by continual nodding as required with fixed-shade helmets.

Welding helmets can weigh as much as 3 lb., and that additional load is placed on the neck and cervical spine. Whether the welding helmet is in the up or down position, it adds weight and forward stress on the spine. In fact, a welder may generate more than 50 lb. of internal force in his neck and back. The further outside the spine’s base of support the external force is held, and the heavier the welding helmet, the greater strain on the neck muscles and intervertebral discs. If this force is held in this position for long periods of time, the intervertebral disc can tear and lead to herniation. To help prevent neck fatigue, strain and degenerative disc disease, lighter-weight helmets and those that don’t need to be nodded down are recommended.

ADF welding helmets also can help improve productivity. First, the time required for an ADF helmet to switch from light to dark is much less than the time it takes to manually lower a passive helmet, whether by hand or nodding. While the few seconds saved may seem inconsequential, they can add up to increased welding output when one considers the total time saved by an entire crew over a shift. In fact, research shows that a single welder can save an average of 4 min./hr. using an ADF helmet rather than a passive helmet. Based on an average labor rate of $16.5/hr., that productivity gain allows a metalformer to save about $1.10 for every hour welders wear an ADF helmet. Extrapolate those figures and it’s possible to recover the investment in an ADF helmet in just a few weeks.

Second, elimination of helmet nodding reduces the chances that a welder will jar the electrode from its starting position, helping to ensure more accurate welds that will require less rework.

Third, the ability of ADF helmets to afford a clear, unobstructed view of the weld in light and dark states further improves weld quality and welder productivity. And fourth (the cost benefits are starting to add up), ADF helmets may allow the welder to more easily work in confined spaces, where there simply isn’t room to enter with the helmet in the up position.

Comfortable = Productive

Common sense tells us that a comfortable welder is a more productive welder. And while the purchase price of an ADF helmet compared with that of a passive-filter helmet may give some metalformers pause, the productivity advantages inherent with ADF helmets more than make up for the premium cost.

Further, some helmet suppliers also make it easier for welders to cost-effectively upgrade the performance of their welding helmet by offering component systems. Users can mix and match standard headgear to different shells and lens options, and swap them out to optimize performance based on the application, without having to buy completely new helmets. MF


See also: Kimberly-Clark Corporation

Related Enterprise Zones: Safety, Welding

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