Welding fumes have been classified as carcinogenic to humans (Group 1) by the International Agency for Research on Cancer (IARC) for a couple of years. But what does that mean for manufacturers?
In most cases, this now means that the HSE will not allow welding to happen unless controls are in place at the manufacturer’s site. For example, welding mild steel outdoors is no longer permitted.
Failure to manage the risk from welding fumes could result in a notice of contravention, a fee for intervention or even prosecution where employees’ health has been adversely affected by their work activities.
Acceptable safety controls – RPE and LEV
The HSE accepts two forms of controls: respiratory protective equipment (RPE), which is usually hoods or masks, and local exhaust ventilation (LEV), which is typically overhead hoods, mobile vacuum units or extractors that are intrinsically fitted to the welding equipment.
Many types of modern welding equipment have some form of LEV fitted to them – or this can be specified when purchasing the product. As a rule of thumb, both controls are required when welding indoors and RPE alone is adequate when welding outdoors. However, sporadic resistance spot welding or TIG welding that lasts for less than one hour is acceptable indoors with RPE only.
Both RPE and LEV require inspection every 14 months to remain compliant and working correctly.
How to protect your team with RPE
When working with RPE, there are a few important areas to consider – from practicality to portability. Direct air-fed models are usually the most comfortable for the wearer. These can be fed either centrally by external air or via a battery-powered respirator, which should prompt consideration about storage, battery life and recharging.
Fitted full or half masks can be hot and restrictive for staff who wear glasses, so they need to be face-fit tested. If you have several team members who wear this type of mask, getting an employee to complete a one-day face fit training course may be an economical way to manage the issue.
When using tight-fitting masks with filter cartridges, it’s vital to change the cartridge according to the manufacturer’s recommendations to ensure harmful fumes are eliminated.
The basics of LEV safety
You rely on your LEV system to remove fumes generated by the welding process, so regular suitability checks and accurate records are essential. Smoke matches and Draeger Tubes simplify the process by detecting hazardous substances that could indicate equipment problems. Similarly, dust lamps set at angles of up to 120o can identify rogue fumes and help confirm your LEV system is working effectively.
When using an overhead hood, it can be useful to demarcate the extraction area with a clear line. This simple measure not only protects your team but also demonstrates your safety commitment to inspectors.
These methods also work with mobile extraction systems or intrinsic LEV systems on welding equipment, but should be done on a case-by-case basis when setting up mobile workstations.
The importance of health surveillance
To keep your workers healthy and avoid compensation claims, be sure to implement a health surveillance programme wherever welding takes place.
All employees should have lung function testing and complete an annual health surveillance questionnaire – and staff who regularly weld with metals containing respiratory sensitisers, such as nickel and chrome, should undergo asthma checks.
Expert guidance for every safety challenge
If you have questions about changing H&S regulations and how they affect your business, our experienced consultants can help. Talk through your compliance concerns with us – book your free telephone consultation below.