The demands of today’s health and safety standards are such that many manufacturers are left with the dilemma of advancing their production techniques without treading on any rules.

Whatever welding processes are used and whatever the industrial constraints, ENGMAR provides customer specific solutions, enabling production performance and worker protection to exist together in harmony.

Welding health hazards

Welding fumes are a complex mixture of metals that vary in composition based on the components of the base metal, coatings and/or filler materials and the temperatures used in the welding process. Adverse health effects associated with welding fumes include short-term illnesses and illnesses resulting from long-term exposure.

Coatings and paints left on the metal surface, residual solvents used to clean the metal surfaces, shielding gases, and gases produced from the metal oxides and welding arcs all are potential health threats ranging from irritation of the throat, eyes, ears, and nose to conditions that are immediately dangerous to life.

Acute effects (short-term exposure):

  • Irritation of the eyes, nose and throat: Gases and fine particles in welding fume can cause dryness of the throat, tickling, coughing or a tight chest. The effects tend to be short lived.
  • Pulmonary oedema: Extreme exposure to ozone can cause pulmonary oedema (fluid on the lungs).

  • Poisoning/ asphyxia: Inhaling welding fumes can lead to poisoning, a condition in which you become weak and develop anemia (a low red blood cell count).

  • Metal fume fever, is an illness caused primarily by exposure to certain fumes. Workers breathe in fumes from chemicals such as, which are created by heating or welding certain metals, particularly galvanized steel. The symptoms are nonspecific but are generally flu-like including fever, chills, nausea, headache, fatigue, muscle aches, joint pains, shortness of breath, chest pain, and cough.

Chronic effects (long-term exposure):

  • Chronic bronchitis is chronic inflammation and irritation of the bronchial tree.

  • Rhinitis is irritation and inflammation of the mucous membrane inside the nose. A variety of substances cause rhinitis.

  • Pneumoconiosis (siderosis or welder's lung) is an occupational illness. Pneumoconiosis diseases are all caused by the inhalation of welding fumes which is retained in the lungs. In the case of Welder’s Lung, the disease results from the inhalation of iron particles. For example, if a welder is dealing with metals containing iron, than he or she might breathe in these particles which are often emitted in the welding fumes.

  • Central nervous system or digestive system involvement: The nervous system, kidneys, digestive system and mental capacity may be affected due to the exposure to lead, manganese or cadmium oxides.

  • Skin or mucous lesions: Repeated or prolonged overexposure can damage the mucous membranes of the nasal passages and cause ulcers to form. In some cases the damage is so severe that the septum (the wall separating the nasal passages) develops a hole. Skin exposure to hexavalent chromium over prolonged periods can cause ulcers to form. Some workers develop an allergic sensitization to chromium. In sensitized workers, contact with even very tiny amounts can cause a serious skin rash.

For more information:

UK: http://www.hse.gov.uk/welding/index.htm

Australia: http://www.safeworkaustralia.gov.au/sites/swa/about/publications/pages/welding-processes

U.S.: https://www.osha.gov/SLTC/weldingcuttingbrazing/

Canada: http://www.labour.gc.ca/eng/health_safety/pubs_hs/hhhcmrwap.shtml

Welding health and safety: UK regulations

Fume Control

Although general ventilation can help to control exposure by reducing background levels of fume, it is usually ineffective for the control of welder exposure. Consequently, ventilation which removes fume at source, commonly known as local exhaust ventilation, is the recommended method of fume control in the welding industry. Extracting the fume at source protects not only the welder, but also other workers, by preventing the fume from entering the general workshop atmosphere. There are four main methods of controlling exposure by removing fume at source.

These are

  1. extraction equipment fitted directly to the welding gun
  2. extraction hoods
  3. extraction tables
  4. adjustable extraction nozzles.

Information, Instruction and Training

The COSHH (Control of Substances Hazardous to Health) regulations require that an employer, who undertakes work which may expose his employees to substances hazardous to health, provides information, instruction and training to allow them to know the risks to health created by the exposure and the precautions to be taken. Furthermore, the Management of Health and Safety at Work Regulations 1999 require that employers assess the risks to health of employees arising from their work. The actions arising from the risk assessment are dictated by COSHH Regulations.

The limits to which welding fume and its component parts must be controlled are provided in Guidance Note EH40 'Occupational Exposure Limits ' available from the Health and Safety Executive. Substances may have either a maximum exposure limit (MEL) or an occupational exposure standard (OES). Welding fume as a mixture has an OES, but account must also be taken of the exposure limits of the individual fume constituents. This means that not only should exposure to welding fume be controlled within the limit set by the welding fume exposure standard, but that the individual fume components must also be controlled within their own limits.

Further information:

Health and safety at work: legislation UK

HSE/ Health and safety executives

The welding institute

Welding Information Center

Welding health and safety: Canadian regulations

Welding and allied processes including hazard identification are outlined in the CSA Standard W117.2 Safety in Welding, Cutting, and Allied Processes.These procedures include the installation of ventilation and fume extraction equipment.

Subsection 10.19 (1)(a) of the Canada Occupational Health and Safety Regulations (COHSR) requires that an employee shall be kept free from exposure to a concentration of an airborne chemical agent in excess of the value for that chemical agent adopted by the ACGIH (American Conference of Industrial Hygienists), in its publication entitled Threshold Limit Values and Biological Exposure Indices (TLVs® for Chemical Substances and Physical Agents & Biological Exposure Indices BEIs®. This publication is referenced in the Canada Occupational Health and Safety Regulations made under Part II of the Canada Labour Code.

When concentrations to various constituents present in welding fumes and gases exceed specified TLVs, or when the health of the employee is at risk, the employer is required to reduce exposure below the prescribed limits.

Section 19.5 of Part XIX of the COHSR states that the employer shall, in order to address identified and assessed hazards, take preventive measures that consist first of the elimination of hazards, then the reduction of hazards and finally, the provision of personal protective equipment. As part of the preventive measures, the employer is also required to develop and implement a preventive maintenance program.

Further information:

Canada Labour Code

A Guide to Health Hazards and Hazard Control Measures with Respect to Welding and Allied Processes

Canadian Centre for Occupational Health and Safety (COHSR)

Welding health and safety: Australian regulations

In order to manage risk under the WHS Regulations 32-38, a duty holder must:

  • identify reasonably foreseeable hazards that could give rise to the risk
  • eliminate the risk so far as is reasonably practicable
  • if it is not reasonably practicable to eliminate the risk – minimise the risk so far as is reasonably practicable by implementing control measures in accordance with the hierarchy of risk control
  • maintain the implemented control measure so that it remains effective
  • review, and if necessary revise all risk control measures so as to maintain, so far as is reasonably practicable, a work environment that is without risks to health and safety.

Local exhaust ventilation systems should be designed to provide a minimum capture velocity at the fume source of 0.5m/second away from the welder. Inlets and outlets should be kept clear at all times. Air from a local exhaust ventilation system should not be re-circulated into the workroom. This air should be discharged into the outside air away from other work areas and away from air conditioning inlets or compressors supplying breathing air.

Examples of local exhaust ventilation suitable for welding operations include:

Further information:

Safe Work Australia

Workplace health and safety

Welding health and safety: U.S. regulations

Reducing exposure to welding fume:

  • Welders should understand the hazards of the materials they are working with. OSHA’s Hazard Communication standard requires employers to provide information and training for workers on hazardous materials in the workplace.
  • Welding surfaces should be cleaned of any coating that could potentially create toxic exposure, such as solvent residue and paint.
  • Workers should position themselves to avoid breathing welding fume and gases. General ventilation, the natural or forced movement of fresh air, can reduce fume and gas
  • levels in the work area. Welding outdoors or in open work spaces does not guarantee adequate ventilation. In work areas without ventilation and exhaust systems, welders should use natural drafts along with proper positioning to keep fume and gases away from themselves and other workers.
  • Local exhaust ventilation systems can be used to remove fume and gases from the welder’s breathing zone. Keep fume hoods, fume extractor guns and vacuum nozzles close to the plume source to remove the maximum amount of fume and gases. Portable or flexible exhaust systems can be positioned so that fume and gases are drawn away from the welder. Keep exhaust ports away from other workers.
  • Consider substituting a lower fume-generating or less toxic welding type or consumable.
  • Do not weld in confined spaces without ventilation. Refer to applicable OSHA regulations.
  • Respiratory protection may be required if work practices and ventilation do not reduce exposures to safe levels.

Further information:

Occupational Safety and health administration