The practice of welding has existed longer than its protective gear. As professionals began to understand the importance of helmets for the job, the need to improve their long-lasting effects continued. Welding is a dangerous job with short and long-term consequences when the dangers are not taken seriously. While the safety measures and consequences of unprotected welding are well known today, it is good to understand and look back at the history of the welding helmet to appreciate how far it has come.
As welding became a profession in the late 1890s to early 1900s, the protection used by the first welders was not enough to keep them safe from the fumes and light their tools caused. By using little more than a scarf and goggles, welders were very prone to injuring themselves in both the short and long term of the job. In 1937, the first model introduced a polarized surface that aided in mitigating the brightness produced by the welding process. While this helped keep vision somewhat clear, the helmet lacked in other areas that needed to be addressed, such as the fumes or sparks that occasionally bounced around during the job.
One of the more cumbersome parts of using the early welding helmet models was the need to lift the helmet after the job. The glass used to protect the welder was very dark and difficult to see through when not welding. While it was necessary for safety, many welders opted to either not deal with it or stick to the simple goggles and scarves to get things done. The game changed during the advent of auto-darkening technology. In the 1980s, new helmets with the auto-darkening feature provided the efficiency that welders desperately needed.
How does auto-darkening technology work? The answer: more lenses than meets the eye. Rather than one solid piece of glass across the front, these helmets have several layers stacked atop one another, all of which play specific roles in selectively or unilaterally blocking light. A polarization layer, infrared filter, and ultraviolet filter lie between clear inner and outer lenses—it’s not just visible light that can harm a welder’s eyes. The critical component of auto-darkening technology is the liquid-crystal filter. Indeed, this technology uses liquid-crystal technology similar to the seven-segment displays on your old digital calculator. When the helmet’s sensors pick up the flash of an arc, the liquid crystals go into action in under a millisecond, changing their positions to darken the lens and absorb light.
In 1996, the company 3M created the Speedglas 9002NC, with a form and fit that made it an ideal preference for many welders. While the mask still did not have a respirator to filter the toxic fumes from the metals, its versatility made it a real treat to work with. The wide lens and range of maneuverability while wearing the helmet made it easy to use and effortless to operate. Even the best helmet did not quite reach the level of the Speedglas at the time. The model felt natural and freeing to wear during jobs requiring welders to wear it for long periods.
As worker rights and safety continued to expand to more general trade vocations, the needs and standards for welding helmets also grew. Respirators are now necessary for preventing the consequences of long-term fume exposure from doing serious damage to the body.
Customizable features have expanded, but are not as necessary. A welding helmet must be able to prevent harm to the user’s head from sparks. The helmet must also offer protection from UV and infrared radiation. Other factors to consider are sensors for different hazards and conditions, lens reaction timing, and a lightweight design for long operation periods.
Helmets spawned out of a realization that welding is not a safe profession. While the heat produced by a welding tool was an obvious measure to keep in mind, other hazards that warranted the use of a reliable welding helmet existed. As metal fuses at high temperatures, gas and fumes are likely to form. The important distinction to make with particles formed through this heating of elements is that the metal is still physically there, but it is so minuscule that welders can inhale it. These metals wreak havoc on the body as they accumulate. Unlike regular gases, these particles can wedge themselves into the body at a microscopic level.
Over time, this buildup leads to various forms of inflammation and potentially cancer in the long run. Because of this risk, the need for proper respirators in welding helmets has increased over the years. However, some hazards are difficult to prevent with a helmet, like explosions, arc radiation, and shocks on the job. Safety practices do a lot in preventing many of those instances, but unfortunately, a helmet can only do so much in protecting a welder’s head.
While modern-day welding helmets afford a wealth of new safety features, some helmets offer simple quality-of-life changes that make the work easier to manage. Comfort is one small detail that has come a long way. It is good to be comfortable to work a full day wearing a helmet. With those factors in mind, neck pain is inevitable and likely irritates quickly. The quality of a helmet relies on both crucial and non-crucial factors, which normally result in a specified cost.
The freedom of vision in a welding helmet is not something to underestimate. Welders need as much visibility as possible while working, so wide lenses capable of providing protected vision are a valuable asset. Newer helmets offer customizable tint colors, delay controls, and light sensitivity that the sensors can monitor regularly. In the end, the priority lies in how safe the helmet can keep the wearer. While the quality-of-life additions are appreciated, they are not necessary for getting the job done right.
When creating reliable and safe orbital welding tools, the welding helmet should be prioritized for safety. The better it is at keeping you safe externally and internally, the less likely an onsite injury will happen. The body is a sensitive cluster of organs and functions sensitive to the harsh environment welding creates. By separating yourself as much as possible from the heat, fumes, and fire, you are better off to continue the job well into the future.