What is Welding Fume?
Welding involves exposure to several hazardous chemical agents.
The chemicals in the fumes depend on the type of welding, the material being welded, the welding gas used and the electrode or welding rod. The likely exposure of the welder to the various constituents of the welding fume depends on all of the above in addition to their location, other welding activities, ventilation and the work practices of the welder. Other activities such as grinding and polishing, Surface coatings, contaminants and degreasing agents, can further complicate exposures.
The health risks associated with welding include:
Acute respiratory health effects
o Irritation to the throat and airway
o Acute irritant-induced asthma
o Metal fume fever
o Acute pneumonia
o Asphyxiation when welding in a confined space
Chronic respiratory health effects
o Chronic Obstructive Pulmonary Disease
o Welders Lung
o Occupational Asthma
o Lung cancer (IARC)
Other Health effects
o Skin effects
o Arc -eye
o Ocular melanoma
o Neurological effects e.g. manganese from mild steel
o Hearing effects e.g. Noise, Ototoxic chemicals
o Hand Arm Vibration
Risk assessment of welding
The welding risk assessment must take account of the type of welding, the material being welded, the welding gas used and the electrode or welding rod, in addition to the location, other welding activities, ventilation and the work practices of the welder. Under the Chemical Agents Regulations, the risk must be assessed on the basis of the risk presented by all such chemical agents in combination. These include (not limited to) chromium (VI), nickel, manganese, ozone, Nitrogen oxides, carbon monoxide and chemicals generated by coatings etc. if present.
Your risk assessment should also address:
o Noise (this can be different at each ear depending on the position of the welder to the weld)
o Electrical Safety
o Fire Safety e.g. is there a requirement for a hot work permit? What were the previous contents of the item being cut or welded? See Safety Alert - Hot Work on Drums and Containers
o Confined Space e.g. Air fed respiratory protective equipment will likely be required
o Weld cleaning e.g. specific precautions are required for use of pickling paste (Refer to the Safety Data Sheet)
Where welding is part of your work activity, you must carry out a risk assessment to identify what measures are required to control the risks from exposure to welding fume. This must include the welder and any other workers in the area.
What controls are required for welding fume?
Follow the guidance in “SLIC Guidance for National Labour Inspectors on addressing health risks from Welding Fume” to reduce the need for welding and to reduce the generation of welding fume e.g.
o using alternative cold joining techniques
o ensure clean uncoated metal
o welding in a way that produces less fume
The specific controls for the welding task depends on the following (they should be documented in your risk assessment)
o Environment and location e.g. indoors, other welding activities in workplace
o Size and shape of workpiece
- A well ventilated work area
- Local exhaust ventilation (LEV) which suits the work activity e.g. moveable extraction arms (elephant trunks) are unlikely to be suitable for a continuous weld on a large workpieces etc. so alternative LEV Systems such as on tool extraction must be considered.
- Where exposure cannot be adequately controlled using engineering measures, then the welder must also wear appropriate respiratory protective equipment (RPE).
- When welding outdoors, local exhaust ventilation (LEV) is unlikely to be effective and RPE will be needed instead.
- Controls are required to ensure compliance with the current legal requirement for risk assessment, engineering control measures and applying the Hierarchy of Control.
There are ongoing legislative amendments and continuing research in the area of welding fume exposure.
A precautionary approach is advised to control welding fume exposures to the lowest levels practicable. The work area should be well ventilated with suitable local extraction also in place and /or with Respiratory Protective Equipment provided and worn.
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Does COSHH apply to welding and welding fume?
No, COSHH refers to the UK Control of Substances Hazardous to Health Regulations so is not applicable in the Republic of Ireland.
What legislation applies to welding and welding fume?
- Safety Health and Welfare at Work Act, 2005
- Safety Health and Welfare at Work (General Application) Regulations 2007-2019
- Safety Health and Welfare at Work (Chemical Agents) Regulations 2001 & 2015
- Safety Health and Welfare at Work (Carcinogens) Regulations 2001 -2019 – while welding fume is not classified as a carcinogen under these regulations, some of the components of welding fume are carcinogenic e.g. Chromium VI, nickel.
- 2020 Code of Practice for the Safety, Health and Welfare at Work (Chemical Agents) Regulations (2001-2015) and the Safety, Health and Welfare at Work (Carcinogens) Regulations (2001-2019)
Do REACH or CLP apply to Welding Fume?
REACH and CLP do not apply to welding fume as it is not a substance, it is process generated.
However, some of the consumables used in welding are considered hazardous e.g. Argon, acetylene and are subject to REACH and CLP. They must have a Safety Data Sheet (available free of charge from your supplier) and be labelled according to the CLP Regulation.
Is there an official, specific or mandatory Health and Safety training or induction in Ireland for Welding? What training is required for welders?
The Safety, Health and Welfare at Work Act 2005 emphasises the need to provide employees with instruction, information and training necessary to ensure their health and safety. Providing employees with health and safety information and training reduces the chance of them suffering injuries or ill health. It helps them acquire the skills, knowledge and attitude to make them competent in the safety and health aspects of their work and instils a positive health and safety culture.
Provide welders with information and training on:
- The hazards and risks within the workplace
- The hazards and risks affecting specific tasks or operations carried out by the person.
- The control measures in place to minimise exposure to these risks.
- Information and instructions on the job to be carried out and how to use the control measures.
- Measures to be taken in an emergency.
Training means showing a person the correct method of doing a task and making sure that he or she can carry out the task correctly and safely.
Apprenticeships, Traineeships and QQI awards are available e.g. SOLAS Traineeship , http://www.apprenticeship.ie/
Welders in certain industries also need to comply with standards or legislation relevant to the industry e.g. Construction Products Regulation (NSAI Construction Standards)
What are the requirements for welding PPE and RPE?
PPE may not be sold or used unless it meets basic health and safety requirements.
- At a minimum, it must be CE marked.
- Different types of PPE are required when welding to protect against heat, splatter, noise, UV light, fumes etc. They must fit together properly and not create additional dangers.
- The numerous European Norm (EN) standards contain design, marking and performance requirements for manufacturers of the different types of equipment. There are standards covering impact resistance, auto-darkening welding filters and fixed filters.
- Reputable welding equipment suppliers or specialised PPE supplies will be able to help you make the correct choice. It is important the person you are seeking advice from knows what they are talking about. See PPE FAQ and RPE
- Use a powered respirator (PAPR) when a welder is required to carry out welding for more than 1 hour per day.
- Pay particular attention to RPE choice when welding in confined space or where there is a risk of oxygen depletion.
- There are additional benefits when selecting a powered respirator that has an integral welding visor to protect the skin and eyes from UV and an additional clear viewing window. This device protects welders as the respirator remains in place when checking their weld. If they do not have this device, welders must wait until all the visible fume has disappeared before lifting their visors
Are there radiation risks from electrodes?
TIG welding often used Thoriated Tungsten Electrodes. During the grinding /sharpening of electrode tips, there is generation of radioactive dust (alpha emitter). Local exhaust ventilation should be provided during the grinding operation. The use of alternative electrodes should be looked at.
Is Health Surveillance required for welders?
Health surveillance is a system of on-going health checks of workers liable to be exposed to substances hazardous to health, such as welding fume. Health surveillance allows for early identification of ill health and helps identify any corrective action needed. Health surveillance is a requirement of Section 22 of the Safety, Health and Welfare at Work Act, 2005 if a risk assessment identifies that employees are exposed to noise or vibration, solvents, fumes, dusts, biological agents and other substances hazardous to health.
Health Surveillance techniques should be used to establish a baseline as part of a pre-employment medical. The employer should identify if a potential employee has existing conditions such as asthma or dermatitis that could be aggravated by their potential work activities such as contact with sensitizers or has an identifiable pre-existing level of hearing loss or respiratory problem. Health surveillance is not a substitute for undertaking a risk assessment or using effective controls. Health surveillance can sometimes be used to help identify where more needs to be done to control risks and where early signs of work-related ill health are detected, employers should take action to prevent further harm and protect employees. E.g. Guidelines on Occupational Asthma
What is Biological Monitoring?
Biological monitoring is a chemical exposure assessment method involving the analysis of blood, urine, hair or exhaled breath samples from workers, for a hazardous substance or its metabolites (breakdown products in the body). It can be used as part of an overall strategy for controlling hazardous chemicals within the workplace, by reducing uncertainty in relation to the effectiveness of control measures in place (e.g. engineering control measures or PPE) and by monitoring work practices. The aim of biological monitoring is to detect hazardous substances in the body before adverse health effects occur. It is aim is to prevent rather than detect adverse changes. This biological data can therefore provide a better measure of risk than is possible through air/environmental monitoring and is complementary to this. See Biological Monitoring Guidelines
Can occupational hygiene monitoring prove that there is no risk?
There is no single welding fume exposure limit. As the composition of the welding fume varies, each of the constituents of the welding fume would need to identified and then measured individually.
“If the results for a given task are below one third of the exposure limit, your controls are probably good enough” (HSE G409). However, the more recent EN689 standard has a requirement for 3 samples for a similar task to be <10% OEL in order to show compliance with the occupational exposure limit (OEL). Even with the HSE G409 standard applied, a professional occupational hygiene survey with an adequate number of samples and the wide variety of chemicals tested for is a very expensive proposition.
In addition, the occupational exposure limits for constituents of welding fume have been lowered and will continue to get lower e.g. Chromium (VI) compounds. See Chemical Agents Code of Practice 2020
- Chromium (VI) compounds - 0.025 mg/m3 for welding or plasma cutting processes or similar work processes that generate fume until 17 January 2025. Then OEL is 0.005 mg/m3
- Manganese, fume (as Mn)- (0.2 mg/m3 Inhalable)
- Manganese and inorganic manganese compounds (as Mn) - 0.2 mg/m3(Inhalable), 0.05 mg/m3 (Respirable)
Exposure monitoring can be considered as a check on the effectiveness of control measures.
A. An employer spent €30,000 on installing moveable hoods in his welding workshop. However, the workpieces were large and would have required a second person to move the hood in order for the welding fume to be removed as the Welder was welding the length of the workpiece. This was not possible so the employees could not use the LEV. On-tool extraction and RPE would have been a better choice.
B. The supplier of the LEV installed the exhaust points beside the intakes vents. This resulted in the contaminants re-entering the workplace.
C. Employer was using a thoriated tungsten electrode. They reviewed the process and were able to change to a alternative tungsten electrode thus eliminating the associated hazard.
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