Comprehensive and Effective Welding Fume Extraction Solutions...
New scientific evidence came to light from the International Agency for Research on Cancer that exposure to mild steel welding fume can cause lung cancer and possibly kidney cancer in humans. The Workplace Health Expert Committee and HSE endorsed the reclassification of welding fume as a human carcinogen. Whilst mild steel welding fume also features manganese can cause neurological effects similar to Parkinson’s disease. The HSE put this into effect with immediate effect and advised businesses to ensure exposure to any welding fume is adequately controlled using engineering controls, such as Local Exhaust Ventilation. Welding fume extraction should be provided for all indoor welding activities.Read More
In 2019, HSE (Health and Safety Executive) released a safety alert for mild steel welding fume. In the alert, HSE stated there no level of safe exposure for mild steel welding fume, and subsequently, reclassified welding fume as a carcinogenic. Following this, HSE changed their enforcement expectations in relation to the control of exposure of welding fume, including that from mild steel welding.
HSE's enforcement expectations came about after research came to light in The Lancet article on IARC Monograph. The research was published in the International Agency for Research for Cancer (IARC)'s publication; Welding, Molybdenum Trioxide, and Indium Tin Oxide. IARC Monographs on the Evaluation of Carcinogenic Risks to Humans (Volume 118).
The new evidence that came to light that there is sufficient evidence in humans for the carcinogenicity of welding fumes to lung cancer. Whilst positive associations have also been observed for kidney cancer.
HSE instantly put out suitable exposure control measures to help control the cancer risk. Exposure from activities such as tig/mig welding should adequately be controlled using engineering controls, typically local exhaust ventilation (LEV). Where LEV controls are put in place, they should be suitably instructed and trained and suitably maintained where required. This includes being subjective to an LEV test every 14 months.
HSE stated that additional PPE (personal protective equipment) should be provided as a secondary measure to help protect staff from fume exposure. Respiratory Protective Equipment (RPE) such as face masks should be used to protect against the residual fume.
After the reclassification, HSE has announced that they will be increasing the number of inspections they'll be carrying out across the UK. Their aim was to educate businesses the risk of welding fume, amongst other hazards in the workplace to help and encourage them to provide the necessary engineering controls to control exposure.
Employers should be using local exhaust ventilation where effective and provide suitable respiratory protective equipment where necessary to protect workers in the metal fabrication industry from inhaling fumes.
John Rowe, Head of Manufacturing at HSE said: “Employers and workers should know the risk, plan their work and use the right controls when welding activity is carried out. If they are not HSE will use enforcement to bring about improvements.
“It is our mission that all workers are protected and are not made ill or killed by their work. Everyone should be able to leave work and go home healthy and safe.”
Shortly after the reclassification and the enforcement expectations changed, HSE released new guidance for managers. The guidance sheet can be found on the COSHH Essentials, Direct Advice Sheets for Welding Industries page.
On their page, they have different guidance sheets depending on the task you're undertaking. These include:
In addition, they have specific guidance for cutting processes, which include manual gas and oxy-gas cutting, plasma arc cutting and air-air gouging.
There are guidance sheets for surface preparation, via pressure blasting for small, medium and large items. Finally, there's welding cleaning with pickling paste.
The guidance describes good control practices when using local exhaust ventilation controls, respiratory protective equipment and general ventilation. It covers the points to follow to reduce exposure for manual metal arch (MMA or stick) welding; flux-cored arc (FCA) welding, metal inert gas (MIG) and metal active gas (MAG) welding, gas welding, tungsten inert gas (TIG) welding and resistance spot welding.
The guidance explains good control practices for different welding process types and the frequency and duration of welding. See the table below.
Frequency and duration of welding
|Welding Type||Good Control Practice|
|Sporadic/Low-intensity Welding||Gas, MMA, FCA, MIG & MAG||LEV, good ventilation & RPE|
|Regular high-intensity welding||Gas, MMA, FCA, MIG & MAG||LEV & supplementary RPE|
|Regular high-intensity welding outdoors||Gas, MMA, FCA, MIG, MAG, TIG||RPE, where LEV isn't practical|
|Sporadic/Occasional low-intensity welding||TIG & Resistance spot welding||General Ventilation|
|Regular high-intensity welding||TIG & Resistance spot welding||LEV|
Fumes are produced when metals are heated above their melting point, vaporise and condense into fumes with predominantly fine solid particles with a diameter less than 1 µm. The English Oxford Dictionary defines a fume as an amount of gas or vapour that smells strongly or is dangerous to inhale.
Adding further depth into what a fume is, the HSE defines welding (and hot cutting process) fume as a varying mixture of airborne gases and very fine particles, which if inhaled can cause ill health. The health risk from the gases found in the fume cloud becomes as important as the risk of metal particles in the fume.
The fumes are a complete mix of particles from the wire or electrode, the base metal and any coatings on the base metal (paint, metalworking fluid, plating etc.) (Hewett, 1995a; Warner 2014).
The distinction between welding fumes and welding gases is that fumes contain solid particles that are temporarily suspending in the air to a solid material being heated (such as metals), whereas gasses are molecules in a gaseous state in the ambient air that have either been generated by or are used in the welding process.
The gases found in welding and cutting fume are nitrous oxide (NOx), nitric oxide (NO) and nitrogen dioxide (NO2) which are both often referred to collectively, in this sector of work as nitrous oxides (NOx), carbon dioxide (CO2), carbon monoxide (CO), shielding gas (e.g. argon, helium) and; ozone (O3).
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