The Dangers Of Welding: New Measures Taken To Protect Employees From Toxic Fumes

The International Agency for Research on Cancer (IARC) categorizes carcinogens — i.e. cancer-causing substances — in four groups. Group 1 is defined as “carcinogenic to humans” meaning sufficient evidence exists to link the substance to cancer in human tissue, while the opposite is true in Group 4, “probably not carcinogenic to humans.” As of January 14, the IARC has classified welding fumes and UV radiation from welding as Group 1 carcinogens.

As a result of these findings, the U.K. Health and Safety Executive (HSE) has issued new safety measures for welding operations which were released at the Industry and Regulatory Forum on Local Exhaust Ventilation (LEV). Among those organizations in attendance were the Institution of Occupational Safety and Health (IOSH, and similar to the U.S. OSHA), the Chartered Institution of Building Services Engineers, the Institute of Local Exhaust Ventilation Engineers, and the British Occupational Hygiene Society. The enforced control standards are as follows:

  • All forms of welding fume can cause cancer.
  • Control is required where:
    • Indoor welding tasks require the use of LEV. If LEV does not control fume capture, then Respiratory Protective Equipment (RPE) is also required.
    • Outdoor welding requires the use of RPE.
  • These raised control standards are to be enforced with immediate effect under Control of Substances Hazardous to Health (COSHH) Regulation 7.

Considering the fact that two out of three welding jobs exist in manufacturing, the HSE’s new enforced control measures will almost definitely impact many of the United Kingdom’s many industries. In fact, Michael Edwards, OSH Content Developer, admits that this change may extend beyond U.K. manufacturing.

“These changes to control standards for welding fumes currently only affect members working within the UK and will have implications to a whole range of different industries where welding operations occur,” he said. “For those members outside of the UK, we can expect that your local regulators may also extend their enforcement position in the future, as this is based on evidence from an international agency.”

Although the U.S. has not made any safety changes as of yet, there’s no doubt that our nation relies on welding in a myriad of ways. From plasma arc welding that allows for the construction of aerospace structures to the more common TIG welding — which is exceptionally versatile and used in a variety of applications — America depends on metalworking to survive and thrive. When it comes to building solid metal structures out of steel or engineered metals, especially with the aid of other elements (such as molybdenum which is frequently used in manufacturing), welding is a must. It’s simply a matter of time before the U.S. issues safety measures of its own.