Health & Safety

 COMPASS’s Deborah Williams

UK changes to welding fume control standards

THE Health and Safety Executive (HSE) has announced some important news on raised control standards for welding fumes.

This follows an announcement from the International Agency for Research on Cancer (IARC), which classifi ed welding fumes and UV radiation from welding as Group 1 carcinogens.

IARC published its fi ndings in Lancet Oncology in 2017 in an article titled: Carcinogenicity of welding, molybdenum trioxide, and indium tin oxide.

The raised enforced control standards are highlighted below:

• All forms of welding fume can cause cancer.

• All forms of welding fume can cause cancer

• Control is required. • Control is required

• Indoor welding tasks require the use of LEV. If LEV is unable to control fume capture then Respiratory Protective Equipment (RPE) is also required.

• Indoor welding tasks require the use of LEV. If LEV is unable to control fume capture then Respiratory Protective Equipment (RPE) is also required

• Outdoor welding requires use of RPE. • Outdoor welding requires use of RPE

• Enforcement of the raised control standards is with immediate eff ect under COSHH Regulation 7.

• Enforcement of the raised control standards is with immediate eff ect under COSHH Regulation 7

The main health hazard with many welding operations – particularly manual metal arc (MMA) (stick) and MIG welding – is the welding fume. This consists of very fi ne particles of metal oxides, mainly arising from the welding rod or wire.

The composition varies depending on the metal being welded. With mild steel the fume will mainly consist of iron oxide but there is also likely to be a small percentage of manganese, which is used in welding rods.

Stainless steel welding is particularly hazardous as the fume contains nickel and chromium VI oxides which are highly toxic if inhaled – both are carcinogens and can also cause occupational asthma.

Repeated exposure to low concentrations of manganese have been shown to aff ect the nervous system and there are proposals to signifi cantly reduce the Workplace Exposure Limit for manganese.

As well as the fume – which is particulate in nature – arc welders will also be exposed to gases. Ozone is produced by the action of the UV from the arc on oxygen in the air. It is highly irritant to the eyes and respiratory system.

The HSE estimates that exposure to welding fume causes more than 150 deaths due to cancer every year. Exposure to the fume and gases can also cause other illnesses, including:

• Metal fume fever;

• Chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD), including bronchitis and emphysema;

• Asthma; • Increased susceptibility to pneumonia

Many welders are exposed unnecessarily to welding fume. Control measures are available, but it’s important to make sure the right controls are used. There

is no one-solution that will be eff ective in all cases: for example, local extraction systems with moveable arms are frequently used, but to be eff ective they need to be positioned close to, and directly over, the source of the fume.

Other types of extraction, such as welding benches and on-gun extraction for MIG welding, are also readily available and, depending on the type of job, these are better options for many types of work. Respiratory protection should always be the last resort but it will be the most appropriate control measure for some types of work.

In order to identify appropriate measures to control the health risks involved, each specific welding activity will need a risk assessment under the Control of Substances Hazardous to Health (COSHH) regulations.

Deborah Williams CMIOSH RMaPS is Principal Safety Consultant at Compass Ltd.

Deborah specialises in assisting private sector organisations within the construction, waste management and extractive industries.

You can contact her on - 01257 482256 or via email: 46 SHWM February, 2019

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