Top tips to protect workers from dangerous levels of welding fumes and gases

Last year, the Health & Safety Executive (HSE) reclassified mild welding fumes as a potential human carcinogen.

New scientific evidence from the International Agency for Research on Cancer uncovered 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.

"It is thought that every year, as many as 12,000 people die from lung disease caused by past exposure to harmful substances at work.", The Health & Safety Executive.

Following the revised guidance on welding fumes (including mild steel welding) which all companies must comply with, the HSE has released a new program of inspections to review health and safety standards across the UK. Businesses  are advised to review the revised guidance and familiarise themselves with the changes.

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 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. 

Could you be at risk?

Each year around 3,000 people working in construction report breathing and lung problems they believe were caused, or made worse, by their work environment. 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
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If you feel you need exposure monitoring to assess your current controls and to ensure you are equipped to cope with stringent inspections then RPS can assist. Contact us for more information on how welding fume exposure can affect your workplace environment.

Contact our experts:

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Tracey Bailey

Business Development Manager - Occupational Hygiene +44 1235 437 100 EMAIL
Milton Keynes | UK
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Matt Bates

Technical Director - Occupational Hygiene +44 (0) 1235 437 100 EMAIL
Milton Keynes | UK
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Ben Massey

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

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