17 Oct 2022

What are the dangers of welding fumes?

Welding Fume Dangers

If you’re in an industry where welding is part of regular operations, it’s essential that – as an employer – you carry out a complete risk assessment to determine which preventative measures need to be taken to control the risks associated with welding fume exposure.

Prolonged exposure to welding fumes can cause both acute and chronic health conditions. Occupational lung disease – including lung cancer – is the most common health risk, but welding fumes can irritate the eyes and skin, too. Asphyxiation is also a major health risk when welding in a confined space. 

Employers are advised on how best to eliminate these dangers in the Control of Substances Hazardous to Health (COSHH) regulations. HSE estimates that breathing metal fumes at work leads to the hospitalisation of 40-50 welders annually, and it’s an employer’s legal responsibility to follow the advice provided to protect workers’ wellbeing. 

What are the health risks associated with welding fumes?

Acute respiratory health effects of welding fumes

According to HSE, these health effects can occur relatively soon after welding fume exposure:

  • Irritation to throat and larger airways in the lungs
  • Acute irritant-induced asthma 
  • Metal fume fever – developing flu-like symptoms after welding
  • Acute pneumonia 

Chronic respiratory health effects of welding fumes

Chronic respiratory health effects associated with exposure to welding fumes tend to develop more gradually and can lead to more serious diseases, such as: 

  • Lung cancer
  • Welder’s lung – a metal deposition in the lung due to exposure to welding fumes
  • Occupational asthma 
  • Chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD) – as suggested by current evidence, although there is not yet enough evidence to determine this as fact

Asphyxiation due to welding in a confined space

Welding in a confined space can lead to death by asphyxiation (suffocation from lack of oxygen). This can occur when workers are exposed to: 

  • Carbon monoxide, which can impair the blood’s oxygen-carrying capacity
  • Shielding gases (including argon, helium and nitrogen, or argon-based mixtures containing carbon dioxide, oxygen or both)

It is advised that welding only occurs in a confined space when absolutely necessary. 

Other health effects caused by welding fume exposure

  • Allergic contact dermatitis 
  • Some may display neurological symptoms that are comparable to Parkinson’s disease – including speech and panic disorders
  • Arc-eye – an acute injury to the front region of the eye, caused by radiation exposure 
  • Harmful noise levels produced while welding
  • Ocular melanoma – a rare form of eye cancer 

How to protect your workers from welding fumes

There are various precautionary measures you can take to control the various dangers associated with exposure to welding fumes. These include: 

  • Using alternative cold joining techniques where possible 
  • Producing less fumes when welding 
  • Local exhaust ventilation (LEV) – being an engineering system that’s designed to reduce airborne contaminants – such as dust, gas, mist and vapour. These could include on-torch extraction, extracted benches, and movable LED 
  • Using welding curtains to prevent arc-eye
  • Using respiratory protective equipment (RPE) – which must be suitable for each 

individual wearer 

  • Using personal protective equipment (PPE) – to prevent exposure to both direct and reflected ultraviolet light 
  • Providing training to welders to ensure they understand the dangers associated with welding fumes and how to avoid these 

If you’re looking to optimise ventilation in your workplace, Airmatic is here to help. Backed by years of industry expertise, we can work with you to provide quality ductwork and fabrication, as well as extraction solutions to best suit your industry – whether that includes welding or otherwise. Keen to find out more? Contact our team today. 

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