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Welding fume and your health - advice from HSE

 

Connect, no. 147, March/April 2007, p.8

Welding fume and your health

Companies who seek to protect the health of their employees know to control exposure to welding fumes by using items such as welding fume extractors and welding visors with a filtered air supply. But are your controls good enough?

How does exposure to fume affect you?

Welders have significantly higher rates of occupational lung disease like asthma and suffer a higher risk of developing lung conditions such as bronchitis and emphysema. They have been found to have lungs that don't function as well as in the normal population, as a result of inhaling welding fume.

Identifying the level of risk

Welding or cutting fume is a mixture of gases and very small particles that get deep into your lungs. All fume is bad, but some types are much worse than others. It depends on:

  • the type of weld
  • the metal
  • where you weld, and for how long

For example, MIG welding produces less fume than stick welding. The fume from welding aluminium and mild steel is far less dangerous than the fume from welding stainless steels or special alloys. If metal is coated ( eg lead or polyurethane paint, etc) there are additional dangers from the fume.

Working in confined spaces is likely to result in fume and gases building up to dangerous levels and welders have died when shielding gases filled up the confined space they were working in.

What to do about it

Think about what type of control you need.

The Health and Safety Executive have made it easy to decide on the type of control you need for the sort of work you are doing. To determine the level of protection required, companies should look at the 'what', the 'how' and the 'where' of the welding work undertaken. This is assuming you weld over 30 minutes a day.

Don't rush out and buy the first protective equipment you come across because you may be wasting money.

HSE Advice on 'Good control practice'

HSE provides a dedicated webpage that takes you through simple steps to identify the right control for your specifications. Free advice sheets covering a wide range of welding activities are also available for download. The advice sheets identify the suitable control required and guidance on the maintenance of controls. These can also be used as your COSHH risk assessment.

Advice sheets available at: www.hse.gov.uk/welding/guidance/index.htm

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