Welding Fume Safety Update

The Health and Safety Executive have just issued updated guidance on their expectation regarding the control of exposure to welding fume.  Those employers found not following the guidelines should expect to receive enforcement action from HSE inspectors.  Those employers providing welding facilities on their site or employing staff who weld should review and revise their risk assessment(s).

Overview

There is 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. The Workplace Health Expert Committee has endorsed the reclassification of mild steel welding fume as a human carcinogen.

Previously it was considered that general ventilation could be adequate to keep inhalation risks to workers at an adequate level.  Additional measures were previously required when welding with materials such as stainless steel, which give rise to specific hazardous fumes. The new guidance states additional precautions must be taken with mild steel also.

Action Required - Control Measures

The risk arising from welding mild steel indoors should be revised to include the following controls:

1. Make sure exposure to any welding fume released is adequately controlled using engineering controls.

a) Typically, this will be some form of Local Exhaust Ventilation (LEV); an extraction system either removing or filtering airborne contaminants.

b) Different extraction systems can be used; normally in the form of a collector hood and flexible pipe connected to a fan or a smaller collector used close up as part of the welding nozzle.

c) LEV must be thoroughly examined and tested periodically (at least every 14 months) with a record kept for at least 5 years. Additionally, information on the installed LEV system (to confirm it provides adequate protection) should be kept for the life of the equipment.

2. Where engineering controls alone cannot control exposure, then adequate and suitable Respiratory Protective Equipment (RPE) should be provided to control risk from any residual fume. 

a) RPE means the user wears a suitable respirator to protect against welding fume.  Masks with FFP3 protection are normally recommended for mild steel welding but other alternatives such as air fed welding masks can be used.

b) Make sure any RPE is subject to an RPE programme to ensure that the RPE is effective in protecting the wearer.  This typically involves checking or inspecting regularly and replacing masks or filters before they become ineffective.

c) RPE must be used when welding outdoors (where LEV is normally considered ineffective).

3. Make sure any persons welding or supervising welding are familiar with the correct use of the equipment by providing instruction or training.

4. Make sure all controls are fit for purpose, correctly used, suitably maintained, checked and tested as required.If you require further guidance or advice, please contact your 1st Option Safety adviser.