A hot topic in welding recently has been the reclassification of Welding Fume as a known carcinogen, with links to cancer proven by the International Agency for Research on Cancer (IARC). Did you know that inadequate respiratory protection is the 4th most frequently cited workplace violation in the United States?
To help out, we thought we’d drop a few ideas on how you can minimise your exposure to welding fume – whether in the workshop, on site or in the man cave.
- Modify or substitute your welding process
If possible, modifying or substituting your welding process or consumables for options which create less gases or fumes can help to reduce exposure to welding fumes and respirable gases. This could involve investigating consumable options for less toxic alternatives finding a welding process that produces less fume.
The only limitation here is that substitution may not always be possible – for example when stainless steel is required for the end product (chromium).
- Engineering controls
Modifying work spaces around the welder or increasing ventilation around the workshop can help reduce exposure. Local exhaust ventilation systems are useful in removing fume and gases from the breathing zone of the welder. Any air extraction system inlet should be located as close to the welding plume source as possible, which assists in removing the greatest amount of toxic gases and fume.
A possible limitation of this control is that it can sometime be difficult to achieve due to conflicting needs such as heating/cooling or shielding gases.
- Work practices
Positioning yourself safely in respect of the welding fume is another way to reduce contact with welding fume. Where possible, this may include welding downwind or making use of a natural draft coming through the workshop.
This may not always be possible however, as space restrictions and workpieces may now allow alternative positioning of your head.
- Personal Protective Equipment (PPE)
In addition to the first 3 steps, we recommend always having appropriate respiratory protection in place. Basic respiratory requirements for welding include P2 level protection and a Required Minimum Protection Factor (RMPF) relevant to the Occupational Exposure Limits (OEL) referenced in the relevant Safety Data Sheet, combined with an understanding of your work environment.
Using P2 rated respirators protect against thermally generated particulates (which includes those given off when welding galvanised steel).
Using a combination of the above techniques and controls will give you the best chance at maximising your welding safety and avoiding exposure to toxic welding fume and gases.
If you have any questions, feel free to contact the expert team at Eweld!
Here are some respiratory options to suit a wide range of applications: