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Are Welding Fumes Cancerous?
Welding, Are You A Bright Spark?
If you do any sort of MIG, TIG, oxy-acetylene or other types of welding then please read this article!
At Safewell we like to keep you up to date with any and all legislation changes and practices.
The fume given off by welding and hot cutting processes is a varying mixture of airborne gases and very fine particles which if inhaled can cause ill health. Up until now, concerns have focussed a lot on welding materials such as stainless steel. There is however new scientific evidence 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. This has led to an immediate change in enforcement policy by the Health & Safety Executive (HSE) and they have issued a specific Safety Alert this month to warn businesses that all welding fume in now considered to be cancerous and that appropriate measures must be in place to control risks. Regardless of duration or location indoors/outdoors, HSE will no longer accept any welding undertaken without any suitable exposure control measures in place, as there is no known level of safe exposure.
The key messages are:
1. Engineering control in the form of extraction/local exhaust ventilation (LEV) must be in place wherever reasonably practicable (the only real exception to this may be some outdoor welding scenarios). All of the options below have their pros and cons, e.g. traditional LEV in the form of flexible arms require frequent re-positioning and do not collect fume from a wide area (this is why you may see a cloud of fume present in most welding shops at or above head height); on-torch extraction is considered the most efficient and reliable way to control fumes when welding long and large pieces and welders often prefer them, as the fume does not travel further than the tip of the torch giving them maximum visibility when welding.
LEV options include:
• Extracted booth;
• Fixed or portable extraction (local exhaust ventilation) system with flexible arm/capture hood;
• Downdraft benches;
• On-torch extraction
2. Where LEV alone does not adequately control exposure, it should be supplemented by adequate and suitable respiratory protective equipment (RPE) to protect against the residual fume. The typical expectation is that RPE will be worn and this includes welding outdoors. The table below shows suitable types of RPE for welding tasks in a well ventilated area. They should NOT be worn when welding in a confined space, where breathing apparatus is required.
For some ideas on appropriate masks and breathing apparatus see to the right hand side.
Face fit required by law.
Under the Control of Substances Hazardous to Health Regulations (COSHH), employees who wear tight fitting face pieces (masks to protect them from dusts, solvents etc.) are required to have a face fit test to ensure the face piece/mask matches the employee’s facial features and will provide an adequate seal to protect the wearer. Tight fitting face pieces, dust masks, solvent masks, face masks, RPE and respiratory protective equipment are all terms for the same thing – a mask used to reduce the airborne hazards entering the lungs. A Face fit test is only required for masks with a tight face seal.
If you are unsure where you stand on the above article or need to know more then click below.
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