Exposure to Welding Fumes

The September 2012 issue of Occupational Health and Safety (OHS) featured an article by Robert E. Brown Jr., CIH, CSP, CHMM on the occupational hazards of welding fume exposures.  Welding fumes are created during the welding process and consist of a “mixture of (somewhat complex but often predictable) metallic oxides, fluorides, and silicates”.  Other contaminants may be involved in the process, however, including the residual compounds already existing on the metals and the use of fillers.

Because there are a number of different welding types, the fumes from welding also vary greatly.  According to Brown, exposure to welding fumes could include aluminum, beryllium, cadmium, chromium (including hexavalent chrome), copper, fluorides, iron oxides, lead, manganese, nickel, vanadium, and zinc oxides.

This potential for exposure to gases occurs in all types of welding, including the following common welding methods:

  • Oxy-Acetylene
  • Arc
  • Electroslag
  • Flux- Cored
  • Gas Metal Arc
  • Gas Tungsten-Arc
  • MIG (Metal Inert Gas)
  • Plasma Arc
  • Shielded Metal Arc
  • TIG (Tungsten Inert Gas)

To better understand the exposure to welding fumes from a specific operation, many factors should be considered, including the metals being welded, the fluxes, welding rods, and fillers used, shielding gases used, coatings and contaminants that may exist on the metal parts, and any gases generated during the actual welding operation.

The article in OHS goes on to explain each potential gas exposure, the source of the exposure, and the effects and symptoms of the exposure.  These effects include kidney damage, emphysema, skin irritation, lead poisoning, eye, nose and throat irritation, and various other issues.  Some of the chemicals emitted during welding are known human carcinogens.

So what can be done?  There are options available to help protect against welding fumes including ventilation, training and restricted work times and locations, and respiratory protection.  A Certified Industrial Hygienist (CIH) can help determine what best fits your facility’s needs.

To learn more details about welding fume exposures, the full article can be found here.

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