Working Safely with Welding Fume – A Summary of Solutions and Risks

In modern day manufacturing, we must evaluate the potential impact that our operations may have on the workplace environment and operatives’ wellbeing and long term health.

Welding fume comprises a varying mixture of airborne gases and very fine particles. The visible part of the fume cloud comprises mainly particles of metal and metal oxide. The level of risk from welding fume will depend on how toxic and concentrated the fume is and how long you are exposed to breathing in the fume. Common gases associated with welding fume include nitrous oxide, carbon dioxide, carbon monoxide, shielding gas and ozone.

Reducing exposure to welding fume:

As an employer, there are a number of options available to protect workers from exposure and equipment available now is more capable than it has ever been. One highly effective solution is to implement a Local Exhaust Ventilation (LEV) system to control the airborne contaminant and remove it from the workplace. This helps protect both the welders at source and all other workers within the general working environment from exposure to welding fumes.

Various processes exist within manufacturing and as each process is different, a ‘one size fits all’ approach is not always going to work, hence we need to consider several elements when designing an LEV system to ensure effective control of the contaminant.

Effective capture can be obtained utilising a number of different methods, for example:

  • Downdraft benches
  • On-torch extraction systems
  • Fixed filter units and flexible capture arms
  • Mobile filter units and flexible capture arms

Although each LEV system needs to effectively control contaminant produced from a welding process, the highest capture rate will normally be around 95%, for example, a weld will still smoke for a period of time post operation, which will continue to produce fume and put other workers within the working environment at risk of exposure. This is where we may also need to consider complementary systems capable of filtering larger volumes of contaminated air and re-circulating it, providing a continuous supply of cleaned air to the workforce.

Effects on health from breathing welding fume:

Exposure to welding fumes within the workplace has a number of risks attached to it. The effects when inhaled have the potential to cause various health issues, which may occur quickly or they may develop over a number of years. Some of the effects resulting from regular exposure include:

Pneumonia: Welders are particularly prone to developing lung infections which could eventually progress into pneumonia. The common perception is that only the older members of the workforce are affected. This is not the case as all ages can suffer from these effects.

Occupational Asthma: The HSE have reviewed this recently and have concluded that welding fume cannot be confirmed as a direct cause of asthma, however a handful of welders each year develop asthma to a level where they must stop working. The HSE advise welders to protect themselves from weld fumes using suitable equipment and PPE.

Cancer: Welding fume is known internationally to be a potential direct cause of cancer. Although this is primarily associated with stainless steel due to its chromium content, all types of welding fume are classed as potentially carcinogenic.

Metal Fume Fever: This is a type of illness that displays similar symptoms to that of a person catching the flu. It is more frequently caused from exposure to welding galvanised steel, although high levels of exposure to mild steel welding may also cause these effects.

Irritation of Throat and Lungs: The gases and fine particles in welding fume can cause dryness of the throat, coughing or a ‘tight’ chest, although these symptoms are usually short lived. Ozone produced from TIG welding of stainless steels and aluminium is a particular cause of these symptoms, alongside high exposure to nitrous oxides generated from arc welding. Prolonged extreme exposure to ozone can result in pulmonary oedema, more commonly known as fluid on the lungs.

Temporary Reduced Lung Function: Continued exposure to welding fume can result in short term lung capacity being reduced with an effect on ease of breathing. Symptoms can worsen through the working week and will then gradually improve when not exposed.

Speak to your LEV system provider to find out more about requirements and solutions available to protect your workers from the effects of welding fumes, or give us a call and we will happily review your current systems and/or discuss suitable preventative measures with you.

McCarthy Environmental offer LEV Awareness & Training Courses to equip business and staff with a practical understanding of how LEV systems work. The training helps businesses to understand how to comply with COSHH regulations and learn more about exposure to fumes, dust and other contaminants within the workplace. Find out more here.

Sources:

HSE – Illness caused by welding fume and gases: www.hse.gov.uk/welding/illness.htm

HSE – Fume facts: What it is and what it does to you (including case study): www.hse.gov.uk/welding/fume-facts.htm

HSE – Welding fume – reducing the risk: www.hse.gov.uk/welding/fume-welding.htm

McCarthy Environmental Ltd specialise in extraction and Local Exhaust Ventilation systems to control harmful substances and fumes within engineering, manufacturing and industrial operations.

We provide a full range of quality products to manage fumes, dust and oil mist, with an independent, bespoke manufacturing capability which provides for complete, cost effective turnkey solutions from consultation and design, through to installation, commissioning and operator training.

We also provide a comprehensive national COSHH/LEV examination and testing service to HSG258, to ensure correct function, efficient operation and continued compliance for all your extraction and LEV systems. Find out more at http://mccarthy-environmental.co.uk/lev-testing/.

We are proud of our reputation for providing reliable and cost effective systems that exceed health and safety legislation in demanding environments, through maintaining the highest standards and delivering innovative, quality product solutions that combine high performance with low cost of ownership.

To find out how we can help you, call 01604 635333.

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