Welding is a process which joins materials by causing heat, pressure, or a combination of both. It is usually used to join metals but can be used for other materials too.
Welding can let off heat and fumes, and employers are required by law to protect their workers’ health by controlling the risks associated with welding as the fumes can cause asthma and other serious conditions including lung cancer.
It should be remembered that welding fume is subject to the Control of Substances Hazardous to Health Regulations (COSHH).
We’ve outlined some of the ways you can protect your workers from welding fumes below, but for further advice on the subject one of our sponsors A1-CBISS have delved into the issue in our latest Insight.
Controlling the risk when welding
There are many ways to reduce risk when welding, we’ve outlined these below to help you take the steps needed to protect workers from welding fumes.
Avoiding or reducing exposure
As a first step, you should consider whether you can avoid or reduce exposure to welding fumes. To protect your workers, assess whether you can use alternative joining, cutting or surface preparation methods that produce less fume or dust.
For example, cold joining techniques are an option if this will produce the results you require from welding.
Other things to consider include:
- automating or mechanising the process by using distance welding, turntables or enclosing the work
- reducing the amount of welding employees undertake
- use materials or a process that generates less fume
- use clean metals
Using local exhaust ventilation (LEV)
If you can’t avoid welding in your workplace then you should use local exhaust ventilation (LEV) systems for indoor working to remove fumes at source.
This will protect any welders from exposure to welding fume and will protect those nearby who aren’t welding also.
Types of LEV include:
- on-torch extraction
- extracted benches
- extracted booths
- movable LEV
For welding outdoors, it’s key to remember that LEV will not work, and so respiratory protective equipment is important for all workers.
Investing in respiratory protective equipment
If you cannot achieve a good standard of control from LEV or if it is not reasonable to provide it, then you must provide your workers with appropriate respiratory protective equipment (RPE) to keep them safe.
From a PPE perspective, you should always provide protective clothing for your welders along with appropriate shielding to protect their eyes.
When you provide RPE for your workers:
- use an FFP3 disposable mask or half-mask with P3 filter for work of up to an hour
- use battery-powered air-fed protective equipment for longer duration work, with a minimum assigned protection factor of 20 (APF20)
- ensure RPE wearers are clean shaven and provide face-fit testing for them
Maintain exposure controls
As an employer, you must ensure that any equipment you have to protect your workers from the risks associated with welding fumes remain effective and in good condition.
To do this you should:
- Ensure all users follow instructions on how to use equipment
- Keep equipment in working order and if it is faulty, repair it straight away
- Assess for signs of wear and tear or damage every day
- Get a ventilation engineer to test and examine the LEV system at least every 14 months
- Keep records of all examinations and tests for at least 5 years
- Review records – failure patterns show where you need to do preventive maintenance
Educating employees on welding
To keep all employees safe, businesses should make a conscious effort to educate everyone within the organisation on the possible health implications of welding fumes.
There should be training on the fume and dust which comes from welding and cutting, the impact these can have on health including life-threatening conditions, plus training on the equipment and processes which can be used to reduce exposure or risk and how these can be used effectively.
It’s also worth considering doing regular health surveillance to collect data on health hazards and to ensure employees remain protected.