Welding Activities – What Are Your Responsibilities?

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.

By law you must protect your workers by controlling the health risks from welding fume. This applies to specialist welders and workers who do some welding, no matter how small the amount.

Control of the cancer risk will require suitable engineering controls for all welding activities indoors e.g. Local Exhaust Ventilation (LEV). Extraction will also control exposure to manganese, which is present in mild steel welding fume, which can cause neurological effects similar to Parkinson’s disease.

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.

Appropriate RPE should be provided for welding outdoors. You should ensure welders are suitably instructed and trained in the use of these controls.

You can control risks to health from welding fumes by:

  • using alternative cold joining techniques
  • welding in a way that produces less fume
  • local exhaust ventilation (LEV)
  • using respiratory protective equipment (RPE) and personal protective equipment (PPE)
  • maintaining control measures and good general ventilation
  • making sure welders understand the risks and how to use controls
Consider if you could avoid or reduce exposure by doing the job in a different way. For example, can you:
  • automate or mechanise the process, by using distance welding, turntables or enclosing the work
  • reduce the amount of welding
  • use materials or a process that generates less fume, for example using MIG welding (an arc welding process) instead of MMA welding (stick welding)
  • use clean metals, for example pre-fabrication shaping or better machining
Due to the above there is a strengthening of HSE’s enforcement expectation for all welding fume, including mild-steel welding; because general ventilation does not achieve the necessary control. For more information visit https://www.hse.gov.uk/safetybulletins/mild-steel-welding-fume.htm


Published on 3 Feb 2020

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