When it comes to PPE for welding, a high-quality helmet is at the top of list. A welding helmet protects the eyes and face from the harmful effects of welding – exposure to UV and IR rays as well as sparks and spatter. The more time spent under a hood, the more important it is to have top-of the-line protection. Today’s advanced models boast cutting-edge features that enhance safety, expand versatility and, ultimately, improve productivity.
Many factors can affect the reliability of welding helmets. First, proper helmet fit is essential for safety and comfort. It’s key to have enough room between the face and front of the helmet. If not, the welder can be uncomfortable, sweat excessively and have moisturerelated issues. Fortunately, for welders in humid environments or where extra sweating is typical, some helmets have been developed with anti-fog features, as well.
“To be effective, welding helmets must block a large amount of light radiation from the weld arc as well as provide impact protection from sparks, slag and grinding activities,” says Kevin Beckerdite, global product manager, PPE, ESAB. “Therefore, ventilation is difficult to achieve while still meeting all of the certified safety criteria. Many welders utilize a PAPR (powered-air purifying respirator) system to prevent inhalation of harmful fumes, but also to provide a constant flow of fresh air.”
No matter which helmet a welder chooses, first and foremost, it should fit so that it moves only when the welder’s head moves; no tilting. The best helmets feature headgear that is adjustable and offers a snug yet comfortable fit, regardless of head shape and size.
“A standard 3-point contact helmet offers basic adjustments for circumference and height, but a helmet with, say, a 5-point adjustable system allows for greater customization,” Beckerdite says. “This type of system adds additional depth adjustments as well as fore/aft and angular adjustments. A customized fit allows the helmet to feel balanced and provides less fatigue for the welder.
“Because the headgear is in direct contact with the welder, it’s a great place to provide better comfort,” he adds. “For example, ESAB adds cushioning to the occipital lobe [back “cradle”] area to reduce pressure points and increase stability on its Sentinel helmets.”
To be comfortable, welding helmets also need to feel as light as possible. Highend helmets typically weigh from a little over 1 lb. to 1.65 lbs. But keep in mind that a properly balanced helmet is just as important as its weight, according to Katie Kleman, product specialist, head and face, Miller Electric Mfg. LLC.
“Reducing weight and improving balance leads to less neck strain and improved operator comfort,” she says. “Productivity is increased due to the operator spending more time welding. Headgear that is flexible and can conform to an operator’s head size and shape improves comfort and overall efficiency. This also reduces irritation caused by pressure points that can lead to headaches.”
Beyond fit, clarity of the lens is one of the most important aspects of a welding helmet. In that regard, welding lenses are certified and tested to ensure that they protect a welder from the UV and IR rays produced from the weld arc. Lens clarity is designated by the European EN 379 Standard rating system. A rating of 1/1/1/1 describes the highest optical clarity.
Combining clarity with the true-color filter perception that high-quality helmets have allows the welder a better view of the weld puddle and surrounding area. This makes it easier to spot problems early, resulting in less rework and an increase in productivity.
“When more colors of the visible light spectrum pass through the lens, the color of the weld arc is more natural,” Kleman says. “Eliminating that artificial yellow, green or blue tint has a major impact on welder productivity.”
As the name implies, auto-darkening helmets feature lenses that darken automatically and immediately when the sensors recognize a weld arc and activate an auto-darkening filter (ADF), eliminating the bright flash at the start of the welding process. (Passive lenses stay fixed at a certain shade, regardless of the environment or brightness.) The advantage? The welder can wear the helmet throughout the entire welding process rather than lifting and lowering the hood repeatedly.
More advanced, variable-shade ADF helmets provide protection shade levels between approximately 5 and 13, effectively addressing the widest range of activities – from oxyfuel and plasma cutting to low-amperage TIG and highamperage welding with large electrodes. Some models even offer half-shade settings that allow for a more precise shade adjustment.
Many welders also prefer an autodarkening helmet that provides a brighter light state. Light state refers to the state of the lens when it’s not darkened for welding. The ability to achieve a brighter light state means the welder has a brighter view when the helmet is down and they’re not welding. This reduces the number of times a welder has to remove or raise and lower their hood, improving safety and productivity. A brighter light state can reduce eye strain, as well.
Another consideration when choosing a helmet is lens reaction time – how fast a lens switches from its natural shade to a darker shade when welding begins. An increased number of arc sensors makes the lens more sensitive and provides a quicker lens response so the welder is never caught off guard by a fellow welder’s arc or when welding out of position. Advanced helmets are rated with as high as a 1/20,000-sec. (0.04-ms) response time.
“Today’s ADF technology is lighter and much improved, but it does add weight,” Beckerdite says. “A wellengineered welding helmet, however, negates the additional weight of the ADF with a properly balanced design.”
When selecting a helmet, the viewing area is yet another consideration to keep in mind. Welding helmets offer various viewing area sizes and a few factors affect the choice, including welding environment, type of welding and personal preference.
Many welders prefer a large viewing area as it offers a clearer view of the weld arc, weld puddle and work area, allowing them to catch mistakes earlier and correct them. Welders who work out of position regularly tend to choose a larger viewing area. A smaller viewing area provides a more focused view, which may be more beneficial to TIG welders.
A larger viewing area might add weight to the helmet, however, which should be considered. It can also hike up the price.
“Today’s trend is that a larger viewing area is better for the welder,” Beckerdite says. “However, the ADF accounts for a large percentage of the helmet’s overall cost, about 60 to 70 percent. Therefore, it’s important to decide whether the extra size is necessary for the welder to achieve the best weld.
“In practice, a welder is focused on the area nearest to the weld arc or puddle, followed by what is in front of the arc, as well as what is directly behind the arc and puddle,” he adds. “Most welding activities are done in a west-to-east or east-to-west manner, rather than a north-to-south or south-to-north direction. So, it makes sense to have a viewing area that extends in a horizontal or landscape pattern close to 2:1 versus a vertical, portrait pattern.”
For those with visual impairments, “a cheater lens, or magnifying lens, is an excellent and inexpensive option for a welder looking for a lightweight accessory to magnify the weld arc and puddle,” notes Alex Soehnlen, product manager, Lincoln Electric.
Far too often, welding helmet shell design is overlooked as part of protecting the welder. For overhead welding in particular, it’s a challenge to prevent slag and debris from falling onto the helmet.
“For overhead welding, the helmet should have rounded features,” says Shaun Relyea, tech support national manager, Fronius USA. “When the hood is flat and square, any spatter falling will stay on the hood and potentially melt through the protection cover, thus damaging the lens. Having a rounded hood allows any spatter to quickly roll away off the hood preventing any damage to the lens.”
Knowing that it’s common for the shell of the helmet to be exposed to spatter, which can cause it to potentially melt, the material a helmet is made of is incredibly important. Most helmets are made of a heat-resistant thermoplastic material.
“Welding helmet shell material is a critical consideration,” Beckerdite notes. “It must pass impact standards, but it also needs to be lightweight and compact. Ideally, the material is soft and flexible, allowing more longevity in tough conditions.”
Like the new power sources that are being developed for modern welding, high-quality helmets are becoming increasingly sophisticated and smarter. Products are equipped with intelligent components to offer the welder increased comfort in the workplace, which contributes to increased productivity.
“Bluetooth connectivity is big right now,” Soehnlen says. “The ability to remove the delay when switching over to dark mode increases the welder’s safety and productivity. Bluetooth connectivity also allows the welder to control the helmet remotely. The option to set your most used welding settings is convenient and more efficient.”
“With the Bluetooth-enabled VizorConnect welding helmet from Fronius, the helmet communicates with the power source, which allows for the lens to darken when the torch trigger is pressed rather than waiting for an arc to start,” Relyea says.
On a final note, Kleman notes that “connecting helmet technologies to the welding power source is inevitable, but it’s the simple technologies that make a big difference.
“For instance, Miller InfoTrack 2.0 technology monitors arc time and arc count allowing the operation to plan, track and increase productivity,” she says. “A brighter light state allows welders to keep their hood down, improving safety and productivity. Visibility is increased between tasks, resulting in less nodding of the head, which decreases injuries. And when welders can clearly see the weld pool and surrounding workpiece, it can contribute to higher quality welds and less rework – saving time and money.”