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Welding Fume - Hazards & Controls

Welding remains one of the most common activities carried out in industry. Exposure to welding fume and other associated gases can cause a range of ill-health conditions.

In 2019 welding fume was reclassified as carcinogenic by the International Agency for Research in Cancer (IARC) prompting a reduction in the permitted Workplace Exposure Limits (WELs) here in the UK.

Employers need to ensure that measures are put in place for welding activities so that exposure to fume is controlled to a level As Low As Reasonably Practicable (ALARP). But before we get into the controls and measures you need to take to apply to welding activities, lets first look at welding as a whole.

Welding fume is produced with any of the three main welding methods with varying degrees of quantity. Manual Metal Arc (MMA) or Stick Welding produces the most fume, followed closely by Metal Inert Gas (MIG) welding and finally Tungsten Inert Gas (TIG) welding producing the least amount.

Welding fume consists of very fine particles of metal oxides with the composition varying depending on the metal being welded. Mild Steel produces iron oxide and small amounts of manganese whilst stainless steel produce nickel and chromium. When welding fume is inhaled, it can produce a range of unpleasant and potentially fatal health affects both acute and chronic:

  • Metal Fume Fever (Flu type symptoms)

  • Acute Pneumonia

  • Chronic Obstructive Pulmonary Disease (COPD)

  • Asthma

  • Neurological Conditions (Similar to Parkinson's)

  • Cancer

  • Asphyxiation (caused by inert gases and carbon monoxide when welding in confined spaces)

There are other health effects from welding that are not caused by inhalation, but we won't go into that here.

Let's look at the controls:

Suitable engineering controls for all welding activities indoors includes the use of Local Exhaust Ventilation (LEV). LEV is an engineering control system to reduce exposures to airborne contaminants such as dust, fume, vapour or gas in a workplace. The LEV hood and system design are critical in controlling welding fume as is its proper use and maintenance. Below is a short overview video produced by the Health & Safety Executive on LEV.

At Blue Turtle, we provide an LEV examination and testing service to check that LEV is working as per its design and controlling the contaminants. An initial inspection of the system is carried out to check for any signs of damage or design flaws followed by a series of measurements. We check that face and capture velocities are adequate and that airflow is smooth when entering the hood. We also check the transport velocities to make sure they are sufficient in carrying the contaminant through the system. We also check for static pressure in the system allowing for any faults to be identified.

Observations of how work is conducted and how the system is used also forms an important part of the assessment checking for any issues in these areas that may lead to exposure.

But what happens when your LEV system doesn't adequately control exposure?

It maybe evident from carrying out an examination and test of the LEV system that it is not adequately controlling welding fume. In this case additional supplementary controls will be required and/or improvements made to the LEV system. Appropriate Respiratory Protection Equipment (RPE) to protect against the residual fume should be used to reduce exposure. Choosing the right RPE is essential and so is the ongoing management and control of it but we won't go into the details here and leave that for a future blog.

Personal exposure monitoring can also be undertaken to establish the degree of exposure to welding fume allowing for suitable controls to be identified and adopted. For more information on personal exposure monitoring then please feel free to have a look at our website:

When is it advisable to carry out personal exposure monitoring?

There are a number of scenarios where carrying out monitoring should be undertaken:

  • Welding coated materials e.g. Galvanised steel

  • Using metals which have low exposure limits e.g. Stainless steel

  • Fume is seen in the air coming away from the welding process

  • Fume is seen which isn't being captured by existing extraction

  • Concerns about the performance of the existing control measures

  • You want to gather information to help you specify future controls

At Blue Turtle Ltd we provide a range of services to help businesses of all types manage their workplace health hazards. Our experienced consultants are able to provide practical advice on how to achieve adequate control through process changes, improvements or adopting/changing work practices to reduce the risk as low as reasonably practicable.

Whatever your Occupational Hygiene needs are, Blue Turtle Ltd is here to help your business protect your workforce and help you meet your legal obligations.

Give us a call today to discuss your needs or if you prefer complete the online form with a brief outline of you business needs or concerns.

Blue Turtle - The missing cog in your business health!

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