Why Has Welding Fume Guidance Been Revised?
In February this year, HSE issued a safety alert about a change in control requirements for exposure to welding fume, including fume from mild steel welding. This was as a result of new scientific evidence from the International Agency for Research on Cancer that exposure to mild welding fume can cause lung cancer and possibly also kidney cancer in humans. HSE has now revised its guidance on exposure to welding fume and has published the Control of Substances Hazardous to Health (COSHH) advice to help ensure that any welding fume released is adequately controlled.
During 2020, HSE inspectors will be visiting businesses across the UK to check that they are complying with the law on welding fume. In order to comply, you need to understand the risks and put the recommended measures and controls in place.
What is the New Guidance on Welding Fume?
‘Task specific COSHH guidance for welding, cutting and allied jobs’ outlines specific guidance on these areas, including advice for manager, and can be read here. HSE has also published guidance on its web pages and this can be read here. A brief summary of this guidance is outlined below.
A Brief Summary of the HSE Guidance on Welding Fume
HSE states that all welding fume can cause lung cancer, asthma and other health conditions, and that as an employer you must protect your workers’ health by controlling the risks from welding fume, no matter small an amount of welding your workers do.
“All welding fume can cause lung cancer”
Health and Safety Executive
HSE lists controls you should put in place. These include:
- using alternative cold joining techniques
- welding in a way that produces less fume
- local exhaust ventilation (LEV)
- 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
For more information about health risks from welding, click here.
Controlling the Risk
1. Avoid or Reduce Exposure
HSE advises employers to think about ways to avid or reduce exposure by using alternative joining, cutting or surface preparation methods that produce less fume and/or dust. Considerations include, for example, automating or mechanising the process and using materials that generate less fume, e.g. MIG welding, instead of MMA welding.
2. Use Local Exhaust Ventilation (LEV)
Where you can’t avoid welding, HSE advises employers to use Local Exhaust Ventilation (LEV). This is a form of fume extraction and, therefore, helps to remove contaminated air from the process at source. For advice on choosing the right LEV for your process, click here. For more help and information about an LEV for your workplace, get in touch with our dust and fume control specialists at HVDS here.
3. Use Suitable Respiratory Protective Equipment (RPE)
Where it is not practical to provide LEV or where LEV alone cannot achieve adequate control, you must provide your employees with suitable respiratory protective equipment (RPE).
For more information about controlling the risks from welding, see the HSE guidance here.
Maintaining exposure controls
HSE lists ways in which you should monitor the effectiveness of the controls you have put in place to protect your workers. These include following instructions on how to use equipment, keeping equipment in good working order, repairing any faulty equipment immediately etc.
A risk assessment will reveal whether or not you need to put a system of ongoing health checks in place. This health surveillance will help to detect any health hazards, protect workers’ health by early detection of changes or disease and evaluate control measures.
Health surveillance for exposure to welding fume as an asthmagen should include regular questionnaires and spirometry.
Although not required by law, health surveillance for exposure to welding fume as a carcinogen might include keeping individual health records for all workers exposed to welding fume. This record should include a historical record of jobs in their employment with you involving exposure to a known carcinogen. Records should be kept for at least 40 years.
Workers must be informed that, where not properly controlled, fume and dust from welding and cutting can cause lung cancer and other lung conditions. HSE lists the training workers should receive with regard to the health related aspects of welding and what they must do to protect themselves from exposure. This training includes how Local Exhaust Ventilation (LEV) systems work, how to properly use an LEV system and how to ensure their system is working properly. For more information about maintenance and testing of LEV, click here. HVDS offers a full LEV testing service. Get in touch on 01785 256976 or contact us here.
“Training should include how local exhaust ventilation systems work”
Health and Safety Executive
For advice and a FREE survey of your LEV systems to make sure they are protecting your workers as effectively as possible, please get in touch with our dust and fume specialists here.
Note: Employers must consult their workers and their workers’ representatives regarding workplace health and safety arrangements.
Where Can I Find More Detailed Information?
For more detailed information on the welding fume exposure recommendations contained in this article, see the full guidance here.
For help with choosing the right LEV for your workplace or for LEV testing and maintenance, please get in touch on 01785 256976