Let’s face it. Safety is important, especially when welding. Equipment manufacturers continue to design and incorporate new technologies into products that keep welders safe, but they’re also working hard to enhance comfort and personal style for those long days in the shop, on a job site or at the track.
In recent years, the greatest advance in auto-darkening helmet technology is electromagnetic detection of the weld. In the past, helmets used optical sensors that picked up the light of the weld. This new technology uses magnetic sensors that detect the magnetic field of the arc. As a result, the helmet’s auto-darkening system responds faster and more consistently to protect a welder’s sight. This is especially handy when welding outside because the lens won’t darken until an arc is struck, regardless of sunlight.
Helmet manufacturers have also added increased functionality to helmets without adding weight. Active helmets today don’t weigh more than passive ones, even with added features including (auto-darkening) LCD panels and other customizable settings.
Premium helmets feature the ability to respond within 1/20,000th of a second for optimal protection, especially in applications involving frequent or heavy tacking, where a welder strikes a greater amount of arcs. Larger LCD panels improve the welder’s view of the work piece, peripheral vision, and overall awareness of the surroundings.
Other added protection
Manufacturers have made helmets more comfortable by improving the balance and padding design. Balance is one of the most important features to consider when trying on a helmet. An improperly balanced helmet will increase fatigue on the neck and shoulder muscles when welding for longer periods of time.
Welders should choose a helmet with a shell that extends down to the neck to give complete protection. They should also wear clear safety glasses underneath the helmet for when the hood is lifted to prep or review a weld. The best safety glasses for welders have rubber ear pads and form-fitting orbital eye coverage. This reduces facial discomfort and pain that can occur after long periods of use. Of course they will also have shatter-proof polycarbonate lenses with an anti-scratch coating, but soft foam protection guards that keep out dust and perspiration are also important features.
Shaded safety glasses are available for welders too. The tints include Smoked, Shade 3.0 and Shade 5.0. Smoked lenses are ideal for outdoor applications, and Shade 3.0 is ideal for light oxy-fuel or plasma cutting applications. The better Smoked and Shade models also feature a reflective outer coating that provides ultraviolet protection and enhanced contrast with minimal glare. Most clear-lens safety glasses also offer UV protection.
On a hot day, relief from heat stress is an important safety consideration. New products have been designed to reduce temperatures under the welder’s hood without the bulk and expense of a complete respiratory system. One example is the Miller CoolBand, a built-in helmet headband with a light-weight fan on the back. It forces filtered airflow under the helmet across the welder’s head and it can be adjusted to blow air down past the welder’s face and temples too.
It’s a cooling system, not a true ventilation system, but it can reduce the temperature under the helmet by about 8 degrees (Farenheit). There’s also a larger cooling system that can reduce under-helmet temperature by about 17 degrees. The fan is worn on a belt, and a tube carries fresh air to a light-weight cap that directs the air down over the welder’s head and face.
A true welder’s ventilation system uses a similar layout, with the fan and filters mounted on a belt. The tube connects to the rear of the helmet, and built-in vents direct air down in front of the welder’s face, creating a ‘curtain’ of filtered air in the welder’s breathing zone. Designed to prevent the welder from breathing smoke and hazardous fumes, different filters are available to protect against gasses released from different metals. There are also ventilation systems with a sealed face mask, much like a firefighter’s air mask. The air can be supplied by a fan, a self-contained canister or even by a shop (breathing) air system.