New Welding guidance issued to avoid cancer risk

If your business does welding - whether indoors or outdoors - you should take note of new HSE guidance, which is effective immediately.

Following new evidence of the cancer risk from welding fume, all welding activities should now have measures in place to extract fumes or to prevent the fumes being breathed in. This applies even where welding is taking place outdoors or in well-ventilated environments.

Businesses which undertake welding activities should check their current processes to ensure they meet the new requirements.

What is welding fume?

The fume given off by welding and hot cutting processes is a varying mixture of airborne gases and very fine particles which if inhaled can cause ill health.

The visible part of the fume cloud is mainly particles of metal, metal oxide and flux (if used). Gases that may be present in welding fume include nitrous oxide (NOx), CO2, carbon monoxide (CO), shielding gas (e.g. Argon) and ozone (O3).

What's the problem?

There is new scientific evidence that exposure to all welding fume, including mild steel welding fume, can cause lung cancer. There is also limited evidence linked to kidney cancer. The Workplace Health Expert Committee has endorsed thereclassification of mild steel welding fume as a human carcinogen.

As a consequence, with immediate effect, there is a strengthening of the HSE's enforcement expectation for all welding fume, including mild steel welding; because general ventilation does not achieve the necessary control.

The exact level of risk from the fume will depend on 3 factors:

  • How toxic the fume is
  • How concentrated the fume is
  • How long you are breathing the fume

How should the risks be controlled

Control of the health risk will require suitable engineering controls for all welding activities indoors, for example, Local Exhaust Ventilation (LEV). Extraction will also control exposure to manganese, which is present in mild steel welding fume and 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.

Regardless of duration, HSE will no longer accept any welding undertaken without any suitable exposure control measures in place, as there is no known level of safe exposure.

Action required by businesses undertaking welding activities:

  • Make sure exposure to any welding fume released is adequately controlled using engineering controls (typically LEV).
  • Make sure suitable controls are provided for all welding activities, irrelevant of duration.  This includes welding outdoors.
  • Where engineering controls alone cannot control exposure, then adequate and suitable RPE should be provided to control risk from any residual fume.
  • Make sure all engineering controls are correctly used, suitably maintained and are subject to thorough examination and test where required.
  • Make sure any RPE is subject to an RPE programme. An RPE programme encapsulates all the elements of RPE use you need to ensure that your RPE is effective in protecting the wearer.

 

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