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Frequently Asked Questions (FAQs)

3M™ Speedglas™ Auto-darkening Welding Filters

Are Speedglas auto-darkening welding filters as safe as traditional shaded glass filters?

Yes. Speedglas filters always provide UV/IR protection for your eyes, whether they are turned on or off, dark or light. They're potentially safer than traditional filters as the Speedglas helmet can always be in the down position, protecting your face and eyes. Plus, your hands are not preoccupied with visor adjustment.


What happens if the battery fails?

Speedglas filters always provide UV/IR protection for your eyes, whether they are turned on or off, dark or light. When you pick up an OFF Speedglas filter, it's intermediately-shaded. When you turn on the filter, it "lightens" and becomes transparent. When an arc is struck, the filter darkens. (The dark shade level depends upon which Speedglas helmet model is used.)


Do you see any of the arc flash?

No. The filter changes too quickly for the eye to see a flash. The transition from no arc to arc occurs without a perceptible flash.


Are the Speedglas welding filters fragile?

No more than traditional filters. All Speedglas filters have inner and outer replaceable protection plates. The filter is recessed back into the helmet for further protection. You can treat the heat- and chemical-resistant helmet very much like any other welding helmet.


Why do Speedglas filters and helmets cost more than traditional filters and helmets?

3M uses state-of-the-art electronics and super lightweight materials to provide the optimum productive, comfortable, and safe helmet/filter combination available. The filter itself is a seven-layer laminate, hand-assembled under clean room conditions, with numerous quality assurance checks. The result is a flawless filter that always lets you see your work.


Are the Speedglas welding filters compatible with non-Speedglas helmets?

No. The high performance and optical clarity of Speedglas filters requires a special design that is not compatible with non-Speedglas helmets. You should never attempt to mix any Speedglas products with non-Speedglas components; doing so may void your product warranty and could result in serious injury.


Welding Fumes

Which respirator do I need when welding stainless steel?

When welding stainless steel MIG or MMA, the welding fumes often contains particles of chromium and nickel, of which chromium is the more toxic. The 3M™ Adflo™ Respirator with particle filter offers you excellent protection in this application. TIG welding does not usually emit much welding fume but creates large quantities of ozone gas: read more under ‘When does ozone form?’ Plasma cutting and plasma welding give rise to high temperatures, which can emit damaging oxides of nitrogen: Read more under ‘What are nitrogen gases?’


Do I really need respiratory protection when welding ordinary steel?

Although welding fumes from normal steel is not one of the more hazardous types, it is far from good for your health. Among other things, it contains particles of iron oxide, which can cause siderosis (chronic inflammation of the lungs). When welding with MIG/MAG and MMA, there are heavy fume emissions, meaning that both a respirator and good ventilation in the workplace are necessary. When welding ordinary steel, a 3M™ Adflo™ Respirator with particle filter is recommended.


What sort of respirator is needed when welding surface-treated material?

When welding surface-treated material, a number of hazardous pollutants can be released. When welding galvanized steel, zinc oxide particles are released. These can cause zinc ague, also known as fume fever. If you weld painted material you should be especially careful, as many paints can give off very hazardous air pollutants. When welding galvanized steel or material painted with lead primer, it is recommended that you use a powered air respirator with particle filter. In combination with an odor filter it will also minimize unpleasant odors. If the material is painted with two component paint or insulated with polyurethane, you should always contact a Safety Engineer. There is a large risk that you will be exposed to isocyanates, which are very hazardous to inhale and difficult to detect. In these cases we recommend a compressed air device like a supplied air system from 3M.


Does shielding gases and alloyed electrodes affect my working environment?

When welding with MIG and TIG, the noble gases argon and helium are used as shielding gases. Neither argon nor helium is considered hazardous, but they can displace oxygen in unventilated areas making the atmosphere oxygen deficient. When welding with MAG, carbon dioxide or a mixture of carbon dioxide and a noble gas is used as a shielding gas. Since parts of the shielding gas can be converted into carbon monoxide when the gas reaches the air, large quantities of carbon monoxide can form around the welding arc. Carbon monoxide cannot be filtered away. If the ventilation is poor, the oxygen level must be checked. Alloyed electrodes are common when welding with MAG. The alloys often contain manganese or silicates. This means that manganese oxide and silicates are diffused into the surrounding air when you are welding. The 3M™ Adflo™ Respirator with particle filter usually offers sufficient protection against alloy particles.


When does ozone form?

When welding aluminum not only are particles of aluminum oxide produced but ozone gas is formed by the action of the UV radiation from the arc breaking down molecular oxygen. Ozone is also produced when welding stainless steel with TIG. Eventually ozone will be converted back to oxygen, a process that is sped up when the ozone comes into contact with solid surfaces that act as a catalyst. Ozone cannot be filtered from the atmosphere but relies on being converted back to oxygen. At low ozone concentrations the use of the 3M™ Adflo™ Respirator System with particulate filter reduces the amount of ozone reaching the welder. This is achieved by the fact that the particle filter (because of its large surface area) and the breathing tube to the welding helmet help to catalyze the conversion of ozone back to normal oxygen. At higher concentrations the inclusion of a gas filter in the Adflo respirator would add an additional large surface of carbon granules on which a further reduction of ozone takes place.


What are nitrogen gases?

Nitrogen dioxide and nitric oxide are examples of nitrogen gases that are formed when you weld with high amperage and high temperatures. Nitrous gases are formed by a reaction in the air between nitrogen and oxygen and are very dangerous to inhale in high concentrations. Nitrogen gases should not be filtered, therefore a supplied air system from 3M is recommended.


Hearing Protection

When should ear plugs be worn as opposed to ear muffs?

Many people find ear plugs to be more comfortable to wear over long periods of time. Also, they do not interfere with other types of personal protective equipment (PPE) such as powered respirators. For some frequencies, ear plugs can also offer higher attenuation than ear muffs. To determine the most suitable type of hearing protection, a noise assessment should be undertaken using a sound level meter.


Skin Protection

The 3M 4540+ claims to offer protection against nuclear particles. Does this mean that it can be used in all nuclear–related applications?

No. The protection against particulate radioactive contamination symbol does not afford protection from radiation. During operations in white zones in nuclear facilities, the 3M 4540+ can help prevent radioactive dusts and liquids from reaching the body. However, as some operations may involve highly toxic or corrosive chemicals, protective clothing offering higher barrier levels may be required (consult National Regulations).


How do you dispose of the garments?

Unused garments can simply be incinerated as household waste. However, contaminated garments must be treated as contaminated waste and disposed of in accordance with national legislation.


What does penetration index mean? Does 0% for a specific chemical mean that nothing can pass through?

No. The test as per EN 368 measures liquid penetration through a fabric by simulating exposures to small amounts (10 ml) for 1 minute only. When exposed to larger quantities and for a longer time, considerable percentages may pass through. To determine barrier effectiveness against a specific chemical, please refer to permeation data.


Do permeation data indicate how long a garment can be used?

No. Permeation data as per EN369 reports the time taken for a chemical to reach a permeation rate of 1 μg/cm².min. But breakthrough time is not enough. Safe wearer time also depends on the toxicity and behaviour of the substance, as well as exposure conditions and wearer behaviour.


Are accessories such as integrated socks, over sleeves, pockets available from 3M?

Yes. Please see our Protective Coveralls web pages to learn more about our range of accessories.

This product is an accessory and is not intended for use as Personal Protective Equipment (PPE). A risk assessment should be carried out by a trained safety professional to ensure that appropriate Personal Protective Equipment is selected and worn correctly.


Respiratory Protection

Why are there APFs and NPFs?

A respirator’s Nominal Protection Factor (NPF) is the theoretical protection level based on laboratory measured performance data.

An Assigned Protection Factor (APF), as detailed in BS4275, is the level of respiratory protection that can realistically be achieved in the workplace by 95% of adequately trained and supervised wearers.

The APF should be used when selecting a respirator.


What does the “CE mark” mean?

The CE symbol printed on the product/ packaging that informs the market that the product meets the essential requirements of the European directives relating to PPE. It could be described as a ‘passport’ to sell products within the European Union.

The CE mark is not a quality mark and does not indicate the performance of the product.

The product should meet the requirements of a relevant European Standard, e.g. EN149:2001 FFP1. This marking indicates the performance category of the product.


Does a half mask with particulate filters give a higher APF than a similar specification disposable respirator?

Purely based on the protection factor, and not taking into account other factors such as user acceptability and cost effectiveness, there is no difference in APF between disposable particulate respirators and a half mask fitted with the same specification filters.

There is a difference between the APF associated with using the same filter on a half mask and a full face mask. e.g. P3 filters on a half mask give an APF of 20 but when the same filters are fitted to a full face mask the APF is 40.


How long does a disposable respirator last?

Disposable particulate respirators, tested to EN149:2001, are approved for single shift use. Their effective usage time depends on a number of factors:

  • Level of contaminant
  • Breathing rate
  • Heat
  • Humidity
  • Hygiene factors

These factors vary from one workplace to the next. For example: an operative working in a very hot, dusty environment may decide to change their respirator at the end of the morning rather than use the same one all day.


How long will my gas/vapour filters last?

The life expectancy of a filter will vary from one job to another and is influenced by a variety of factors including the exposure time and location of the job. As long as the hazard has good warning properties, i.e. smell or taste at a lower level than the WEL - HSE publication HSG53 offers additional guidance to users - a filter can be used until breakthrough occurs, however this should not be routinely relied on.


Does MDF (Medium Density Fibreboard) give off Formaldehyde when it is cut or routed?

The Health and Safety Executive (HSE) has concluded that machining of MDF is no more, or less, hazardous than working with other forms of wood. In short, formaldehyde is not considered to be a problem.

The HSE has previously suggested that an FFP2 respirator could be evaluated for cutting or routing MDF in ventilated workshops eg. 3M™ 8822 / 9322 Respirators. Alternatively, you could try the 3M™ Powered Air & Airfed Respirators which have the added advantage of providing eye protection & head protection, depending on the model chosen.


What respirator should I use to protect against vehicle exhaust?

There is no simple answer to this question as there will normally be Oxides of Carbon and Nitrogen in the mixture of exhaust gases which cannot be filtered out.

The only way to protect against all the contaminants in vehicle exhaust would be with either a supplied air system or self contained breathing apparatus (SCBA). This solution is often not practicable so a compromise solution has to be reached. One option is a 3M half mask fitted with 3M™ 2128 Filters. These filters will filter out fine particulates and offer relief from nuisance levels of acid gas and organic vapours in the exhaust.


Can I use organic vapour filters with isocyanate based compounds?

The levels at which isocyanate can be detected by smell or taste are considerably higher than the Workplace Exposure Limit (WEL) as set by the HSE. There would be no indication of smell/taste that 'breakthrough' had occurred until an exposure higher than the WEL.

As isocyanates are a potent occupational asthmagen the safe solution and HSE advice is to use an air fed system which supplies breathable quality air to the wearer rather than filtering out airborne contaminants. The 3M™ Versaflo V-500™ Supplied Air System could be considered for this type of application.


What respirator do I need when painting?

As there are so many different types of paint in common use it is very difficult to suggest one product for everything.

The main problems are vapours from the organic solvent carriers and particulates in the form of pigments and spray mist. In most cases brush or roller applying paint is less hazardous than spraying since a lesser amount of pigment and vapour will become airborne. We suggest the following filter selections for the more commonly occurring paint application groupings:

  • Powder coating – particulate filters or supplied air, depending on levels of contaminant.
  • Water based – particulate filters often combined with nuisance level organic vapour protection when low levels of solvent are present.
  • Solvent based with good warning properties – organic vapour & particulate filters.
  • 2-pack isocyanate based – a minimum of a supplied air visor.



I’ve been told to look on the “MSDS” for some information. What is it and where do I get one?

The MSDS or Material Safety Data Sheet is a document published by the manufacturer/processor of a substance that includes information on its usage and handling.

This may include toxicological effects, level of flammability and a breakdown of compounds. Manufacturers are obliged by law to provide a MSDS.


When should I carry out a risk assessment?

The simple answer to this question is that you should carry out an assessment when you suspect that there is a risk.

The assessment needs to be of the risks created by the work, not the substances. It is a mistake to think that a risk assessment need only consist of a collection of manufacturers health and safety data sheets. This is often caused by a failure to understand the difference between a hazard and a risk.

Hazard - The potential to cause harm.

Risk - The likelihood that the harm will occur in practice.

A good analogy is a bottle of household bleach. The hazard is the bleach itself, but there is very little risk when the bottle is in a cupboard, but that risk increases if the bottle is left on the edge of a work surface with the lid off.

There is a raft of legislation relating to risk assessment including:

Section 2. Health & Safety at Work Act 1974, General Duties of Employers Employers are required to ensure, so far is reasonably practicable, the health, safety and welfare of all his employees. This does not implicitly mean that you have to carry out a risk assessment, but it would be difficult to comply with the regulation without having assessed the risks.

Regulation 3. Management of Health & Safety at Work Act 1992. A more explicit set of regulations that require risk assessments to be carried out.

Regulation 6. Control of Substances Hazardous To Health Regulations (COSHH). An employer shall not carry on any work which is liable to expose any employees to any substance hazardous to health unless he has made a suitable and sufficient assessment of the risks created by that work to the health of those employees and of the steps that need to be taken to meet the requirements of these Regulations.


How does “Oxygen Deficiency” occur?

Oxygen Deficiency occurs when the percentage of oxygen in the air falls below 19.5% (a 3M definition). It can be caused by chemical reaction, fire or when other chemicals displace oxygen from the air. Typically this occurs in confined spaces where there is poor ventilation.


What is meant by “IDLH”?

This is the concentration considered Immediately Dangerous to Life or Health (IDLH) as defined by the NIOSH (in the USA). The IDLH concentration is defined as "that poses a threat of exposure to airborne contaminants when that exposure is likely to cause death or immediate or delayed permanent adverse health effects or prevent escape from such an environment."

The IDLH value represents a maximum hazard concentration from which a worker would escape within 30 minutes without any escape impairing symptoms or any irreversible health effects.



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