Protecting workers from dangerous levels of welding fumes and gases

There are an estimated 17,000  new cases of breathing and lung problems caused or made worse by work each year. These figures are taken from different industries but exposure to welding fumes is a contributing factor [see article].

Could you be at risk?

The Health & Safety Executive (HSE) has reclassified mild welding fumes as a potential human carcinogen and, new scientific evidence from the International Agency for Research on Cancer discovered that prolonged exposure to mild steel welding fumes can cause lung cancer and possible kidney cancer in humans. Meanwhile, short-term exposure can result in nausea, dizziness, or eye, nose and throat irritation.

Employers are responsible for ensuring workers are safe within the workplace and are not overexposed to substances which may cause them long term or even short-term health issues. Employers should frequently assess the risk of their workers exposure to toxic substances to ensure limits are not being exceeded.

Over exposure to the following could increase your risk of lung cancer:

  • Chromium (VI) compounds
  • Diesel engine exhaust
  • Silica dust and crystalline silica
  • Welding fumes
  • Asbestos
  • Arsenic and inorganic arsenic compounds
  • Chemicals used in rubber manufacturing, iron and steel founding and painting
  • Some nickel compounds

How to avoid prolonged exposure

Here are our top tips to ensure you and your colleagues are as safe as possible when it comes to welding in the workplace:

Get your head out of the clouds

  • Plan welding sequences that will allow welders to work in a position where they are not directly breathing in the fume cloud

Ensure good ventilation

  • Where possible, use local exhaust ventilation (LEV) systems [see article] for indoor welding activities. Be sure to keep exhaust ports away from other workers

Work upwind

  • Staying upwind will help to avoid welding fumes when working in open or outdoor areas. However, keep in mind that this doesn’t guarantee safe ventilation and there is no known safe level of exposure to welding fume.

When LEV is not available, or you or your colleagues are unable to work outside, the safest way of working to avoid exposure to welding fumes is to use Respiratory Protective Equipment (RPE) - although this should be considered as a last resort. 

Exposure monitoring and analysis

RPS is uniquely positioned to design a fully integrated welding fume monitoring and laboratory analysis service, which supports clients to understand, evaluate and manage employees exposure in the workplace. Our service can be tailored in response to each client’s needs, to assist them to meet their (COSHH) regulatory requirements. The benefit of these combined services is the time and cost efficiencies you will gain, compliance with prescribed occupational exposure limits, control of the workplace environment and working methods, and staff education will help companies achieve the required level of workers’ protection.

Workplace monitoring:

One of the control measures used in occupational exposure monitoring is a Local Exhaust Ventilation system (LEV). These help keep employees safe at work by removing hazardous airborne substances. There is a statutory requirement for LEV systems to be tested every 14 months.

Workplace analysis:

Our laboratories provides sample media and analysis using an in-house method. Along with welding fume analysis we have additional analytical services available that can also be considered when looking at protecting employees working alongside metals including dust, oils, and lubricants, such as:

  • UKAS accredited air monitoring analysis of dust
  • UKAS accredited oil mist analysis in line with MDHS 47/3
  • Biological analysis for metal testing in urine


Contact our team:

Ben Massey-26 V2.jpg

Ben Massey

Business Development - Occupational Health & Hygiene T: +44 (0) 1235 437 100 Email
View profile »
Milton Keynes | UK

Tracey Bailey

Business Development Manager - Occupational Hygiene T: +44 1235 437 100 Email
Milton Keynes | UK

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