HSE has recently altered the guidance on welding and welding fume, now making clear the requirement to control all welding fume, even that arising from welding mild steel.

All welding fume is harmful to health, and it is now established that apart from metal fume fever from acute high exposures, welding fume will cause lung damage over a life time, and can be responsible for lung cancer.  Any worker who is welding for the substantial amount of his day should have health surveillance, particularly focusing on his or her respiratory health.  We can help you arrange this if you don’t already have access to occupational health advice.

Small amounts of welding outside may be carried out with respiratory protection only, but more intensive welding, particularly indoors, must be equipped with fume extraction.  The design of fume extraction is an art in itself, and can range from extraction built into the welding torch, to extracted benches or booths, or the adjustable hood often seen in welding workshops.  It is important that the extraction specified is appropriate to the particular work done, is up to the job, and most of all, that it will actually be used effectively by the welder.  Too often, those adjustable hoods are pushed to the back of the bench, nowhere near the welding operation, or are not even switched on.

To make sure your expensive kit is used properly, it is a very good idea to give your welders some training, perhaps in the form of a toolbox talk.  If they are fresh out of college, they may know it all anyway, but otherwise, they deserve the best information to protect themselves.  It is also useful to provide a reminder about the risk to eyes from welding flash.  I often see welders protecting their own eyes, and those of visitors to the workshop, but failing to protect their colleagues who are not actively welding at that moment, so not using eye protection themselves.  Screen should ideally completely surround a welder.

Respiratory protection may be needed in addition to fume extraction at source, or for situations, where extraction is not required and good general ventilation is used.  Here, respiratory protection which is integral with eye and face protection is a good idea, and the downflow mask or visor is very popular.  This blows a stream of filtered air down over the face of the wearer from a headband or helmet, thus keeping any fume or impurities out of the breathing zone.  It is powered by a battery pack worn round the waist.  These are often liked because the flow of cool air is pleasant, and the mask is not close fitting.  Don’t forget these must be kept charged, properly stored, and checked and cleaned regularly.

For an opinion on your welding set up, do ask us to advise.