The Top Three Health Risks from Welding Fume Exposure

We’ve looked at the top three health risks that can arise from exposure to welding fume. There will be some welders that don’t get ill, others that do get ill for only a short time or get permanent illnesses from breathing welding fume. The HSE report that some welders can get so ill they have to stop welding and find a new career. 

HEALTH RISKS FROM WELDING FUME EXPOSURE

1. CANCER

There is sufficient evidence in humans for the carcinogenicity of welding fumes. Welding fumes cause cancer of the lung. Positive asso­ciations have been observed with cancer of the kidney (IARC 2018). Supporting this, earlier in 2019, the HSE reclassified welding fume as a carcinogen and subsequently changed their enforcement expectations to statethat regardless of duration, the HSE will no longer accept any welding activity undertaken without any suitable exposure control measures in place e.g. LEV (local exhaust ventilation), as there is no known level of safe exposure (HSE 2019).

2. ASTHMA

Epidemiological studies show that long-term exposure to welding fumes is associated with respiratory health effects including asthma (Wang 1994). Under ‘The Health and Occupation Reporting’ (THOR) network in Great Britain, stainless steel welding fumes have been identified as one of the most frequently suspected agents associated with occupational asthma THOR (2007).

3. PNEUMONIA

It has been identified that there is an increase of susceptibility to pneumonia in welders from evidence of immune suppression as a result of exposure to welding fumes (Coggon et al. 2009). Support this, the HSEestimate that breathing metal fume at work leads to 40-50 welders each year being hospitalised. Pneumonia kills about 2 welders each year (Palmer et al. 2009).

OTHER ILLNESSES

In addition to the three common health issues that can arise from welding, these can include:

  • Metal fume fever – Welders’ report flu-like symptoms after welding
  • Irritation of the throat – Gases and fine particles in welding fume can cause dryness of the throat, tickling, coughing or a tight chest
  • Lungs reduced lung capacity – Overall lung capacity and the ease at which workers’ can breathe out (peak flow) are affected by prolonged exposure to welding fume.

ACTIONS TO TAKE

HSE advise to control the exposure risk with suitable engineering controls for all welding activities indoors e.g. LEV (local exhaust ventilation). In addition, the HSE advise to discharge cleaned, extracted air to a safe place outside the building, away from doors and windows and employers should have a supply of clean air coming into the workroom to replace extracted air HSE (2011). Read more about the solutions we can offer business here.

Read the latest HSE guidance on health risks from welding fume exposure here.

LEV WELDING FUME EXPERTS

Auto Extract Systems Ltd can assist your business with a LEV system that will safely remove welding fumes from the working environment and help your business become HSE compliant. Our services include the design, installation, maintenance and certification of bespoke LEV systems that will be specified to meet the latest HSE COSHH (Control of Substances Hazardous to Health) 2002 regulations and HSE welding fume reclassification and enforcement expectations.

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REFERENCES

Coggon D, Harris EC, Brown T, Rice S, Palmer KT (2009). Occupational mortality in England and Wales, 1991–2000. Newport, UK: Office for National Statistics, Health and Safety Executive. Available from: https://www.ons.gov.uk.

HSE (2019). Change in Enforcement Expectations for Mild Steel Welding Fume. [online] Available at: http://www.hse.gov.uk/safetybulletins/mild-steel-welding-fume.htm [Accessed 1 Feb. 2019].

HSE (2011): WL10: COSHH Essentials for Welding, Hot Work and Allied Processes: Metal Inert Gas (MIG) and Metal Active Gas (MAG) Welding. Control Approach 2: Engineering Control.

IARC (2018): International Agency for Research on Cancer: IARC Monographs on the Evaluation of Carcinogenic Risks to Humans Volume 118 Welding, Molybdenum Trioxide, and Indium Tin Oxide

Palmer et al (2009). Mortality from infectious pneumonia in metal workers: a comparison with deaths from asthma in occupations exposed to respiratory sensitizers. THORAX Online first, published on August 23, 2009 as 10.1136/thx2009.114280

THOR (2007). Occupational asthma by occupation. HSE: http://www.hse.gov.uk/statistics/tables/thorr05.htm

Wang ZP, Larsson K, Malmberg P, Sjögren B, Hallberg BO, Wrangskog K (1994). Asthma, lung function, and bronchial responsiveness in welders. Am J Ind Med, 26(6):741–54. doi:10.1002/ajim.4700260603PMID:7892825

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