FEATURE: All you need to know about welding fume exposure
Posted 27th June 2018
With up to 80,000 known Welders in the UK, including those that use welding techniques as part of their positions, a big proportion of the population come face to face with potential harmful fumes and gases every single day.
Typical industries that use welding processes are Manufacturing, Construction, Fabrication and Engineering. Those working alongside welders in warehouses, factories or other confined spaces could also be putting their health at risk.
The following information will help Health and Safety Managers and other key decision makers in a company that involves welding practices, decide if additional ventilation, fume extraction or respiratory protective equipment (RPE) is required in the workplace.
What is the fume and gases from welding?
The fume given off by welding processes is a varying mixture of airborne gases and very fine particles which if inhaled can cause ill health.
Gases that may be present in welding fumes are:
- Nitrous Oxide (NOx)
- Carbon Dioxide (CO2)
- Carbon Monoxide (CO)
- Shielding Gas (Argon, helium)
- Ozone (O3)
The visible part of the fume cloud is mainly particles of metal, metal oxide and flux (if used) and
the exact level of risk from the fume will depend on three key factors:
How toxic the fume is, how concentrated the fume is and how long employees are breathing in the fumes in question.
How much time is spent ‘on the job’?
Some welders, particularly fabricators, spend a significant amount of time setting up a job before they pick up the welding torch to start welding. This means in an eight-hour working day the welder may only actually weld for an hour or two. Conversely a production welder who is supplied with ready cut parts and a jig to hold them will spend much more time welding. If you are assessing risk, it is important to consider how long a welder will be welding so an accurate assessment of exposure can be calculated.
What can such fume and gases cause?
There will be people who never fall ill from breathing in welding fume but then others may get permanent illnesses like asthma. A few welders may also get so ill they must stop welding and find a new career path.
With your workforce regularly breathing in welding fume you could be putting them at risk of developing Pneumonia, Occupational Asthma, Cancer, Metal Fume Fever, Irritation of the throat and lungs or temporary reduced lung function.
How can you reduce the risk to employees?
The first step in the process is to carry out a risk assessment by identifying what welding activities are being carried out on your site, this should include the range of welding techniques used and metal combinations. The next step should then be to commission a series of actual personal exposure assessments that cover the full range of activities.
Depending on the exposure levels it may then be necessary to install some form of extraction system or respiratory protection that is adequate to cover the type of exposure likely from the welding activities.
Ask yourself the following questions:
- Can the job be designed so there is less ‘hot work’ including welding processes?
- Can the manufacturing sequence or techniques be modified so there is less hot work?
- Can you use a welding technique that makes less fume?
- Are your welders using the optimum setup?
- Can you reduce the amount of time your welders are welding?
- Does your workforce have the correct protective equipment?
- Do they require additional RPE?
- Could additional ventilation / extraction be adopted?
You can call Euro Environmental for a full risk assessment so that you fully understand the levels of fume and gas in your workplace and be given recommendations and advice on how to keep / make your company fully compliant in relation to the HSE regulations.