Welding cancer risk
The International Agency for Research on Cancer has found new evidence that exposure to mild steel welding fumes can cause lung cancer in humans. There is also some evidence that it may cause kidney cancer. Endorsed by the Workplace Health Expert Committee, mild steel welding fumes have been reclassified as a human carcinogen. As general ventilation will not bring about the necessary control, the HSE is strengthening the enforcement expectation for all welding fumes with immediate effect.
Welding fume inhalation was already known to be hazardous to the health of welders more prone to lung infections. In addition to being a cancer risk, Exposure to the manganese in mild steel welding fume can also cause a neurological condition similar to Parkinson’s Disease. The new enforcement expectations will also reduce these risks.
Suitable engineering controls will be required for all indoor welding, such as Local Exhaust Ventilation. (LEV). If this proves insufficient to control exposure, appropriate respiratory protective equipment (RPE) must be provided. This will also need to be provided for outdoor welders and the necessary training needs to be given.
There is no known safe level of exposure, so these measures are required to be in place even when welding occurs for a short duration. When carrying out risk assessments, the new control measures need to be included.
Action to be taken
If welding is an activity in your workplace, the following steps need to be taken:
- Make sure you are using engineering controls such as LEV to adequately control welding fumes
- Check what controls are needed for different welding activities, including those of short duration and outdoors
- Check engineering controls to ensure proper maintenance and usage
- Thoroughly test and examine engineering controls
- Provide suitable RPE if engineering controls do not adequately control exposure
- Subject the RPE to an RPE programme, demonstrating that all elements are covered to ensure the RPE provides effective protection for the wearer