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What you need to know about the HSE welding fume safety alert

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Written by Zehnder Clean Air Solutions | 23.09.2019

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About welding

From bridges to skyscrapers and aircraft to automobiles, welding is indispensable. It’s no surprise that welding is in high demand, but it’s tough work – welders often spend long hours in dark, dusty environments dealing with high temperatures and high voltages. In a fast-moving industry with evolving customer demands, the health and wellbeing of workers often doesn’t get the attention it deserves.

Fortunately, the Health and Safety Executive (HSE) is raising the alarm when it comes to the negative health impacts of welding fume by ➥ classifying mild steel welding fume as a carcinogen in humans.

Supported by The Workplace Health Expert Committee, the HSE drew its conclusions from the growing body of research proving that mild steel welding fume can cause lung cancer, and possibly kidney cancer. In addition to increased cancer-risk, welding fume often contains manganese which can cause neurological effects similar to Parkinson’s disease.

Fighting back against welding fume

Many businesses already use ventilation systems, and while they are better than nothing, they are often insufficient. For this reason, the HSE is immediately strengthening the enforcement expectations for welding fume.

Solutions for reducing cancer risk will require proper engineering controls for all indoor welding activities. These facilities should already have local exhaust ventilation (LEV), and where this is insufficient to prevent exposure, it should be supplemented with suitable respiratory protective equipment (RPE). Outdoor welders should also be provided with RPE, and all welders should be instructed and trained in proper procedures.

The HSE has been clear that it will no longer tolerate welding conducted without sufficient exposure control measures for any duration. There’s no known level of safe exposure, and risk assessments should reflect this. 

We know that clean air shouldn’t be a luxury for welders – it’s a necessity.

As research continues, the industry is likely to implement more rules to protect the health and wellbeing of workers, and businesses will need to take action. Fortunately, there are already highly-effective solutions available, and they don’t require heavy investment. If you’re looking for solutions, our guide to combatting welding fume is a great place to start, as it offers comprehensive information on keeping your employees safe.  

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