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Welding Fume

You may have noticed the furore that has been stoked by the recent re-classification of welding fume gases as a known carcinogen and so we thought it might be worth giving you some advice and background information.

The International Agency for Research on Cancer (IARC) published a monograph in July 2018 in which they discussed recent research into the carcinogenic effect of welding fumes on humans. The paper covered all types of welding and the conclusion, at this point, was that there was now sufficient evidence to confirm that exposure to welding fumes could cause carcinogenic effects. The IARC now classifies welding fumes as a substance “carcinogenic to humans (Group 1)”.

So, it’s all new news then? Well, not really. Welding fumes have been classified by the IARC as “possibly carcinogenic to humans (Group 2B)” since 1989. There has always been a requirement to protect workers as far as is reasonably practicable, however until now the HSE has viewed general ventilation as an acceptable form of control until this point. This is the main turning point that you need to get a grip on immediately

The HSE now expect that any welding done indoors will require suitable engineering controls, such as local exhaust extraction (LEV). This extraction will also be required to control exposure to Manganese, typically through some form of filtration. Where LEV alone does not adequately control exposure, maybe because the welding process places the worker between the welding point and the extraction hood, then further respiratory protection will be required. This could be in the form of air-fed or disposable masks. If you decide on disposable masks, then the employees must have been subject to Face Fit Testing to ensure that the mask supplied is suitable for their use.

For outdoor welding, respiratory protection should be worn, again due to the proximity of the employee to the welding fume. This could be simple disposable masks or more complex air-fed solutions depending on duration, the amount of fume generated etc. This is much simpler than indoor welding, however you cannot do nothing.

The HSE has made it clear that “regardless of duration, the HSE will no longer accept any welding undertaken without any suitable exposure controls in place, as there is no known level of safe exposure”.

So, after all of that, what do you need to do? Indoor welding is going to be the more problematic to control and so I would suggest that you consider the following as a starter for ten for indoor welding:


  • Undertake monitoring of your work environment for indoor welding. This will tell you whether your existing controls are actually doing anything, or whether there is a more significant problem that you need to manage.
  • Review your existing controls. If you haven’t got any LEV installed at the moment, take steps to start the process of evaluating what sort of engineered solution might be suitable for you. Don’t guess at this! Make contact with a competent supplier and ask them to come and visit your premises to fully understand what you need.
  • Ensure that RPE is provided and supplied to employees. Make sure that any disposable RPE used is suitable for the user. Be wary of ‘dust masks’ as they typically won’t work for persons with facial hair.

Be warned, though, there is no excuse for simply carrying on as normal “because this is how we’ve always done it”. There is an argument that as of now, employees may be on much firmer ground to make a successful claim that their health has been affected by their work activities as you now know that there’s a problem that you need to manage. Prior to today, such a claim might, arguably, be more difficult to succeed as there wasn’t previously the same level of knowledge about the dangers of the effects of welding fume.

For further information or advice, contact me on 01302 341 344.

By Ian Clayton CMIOSHHealth & Safety Manager

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