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EXPOSURE TO WELDING FUME AND OTHER GASSES

There are many types of welding processes that can cause exposure to harmful gasses and fumes. The visible clouds of fume are generally made up of metal particles and metal oxide. Additionally, harmful gasses such as Nitrous Oxide, Carbon Monoxide and Carbon Dioxide are emitted during welding operations . In order to protect workers these gasses and fumes need to be controlled.

WHY IS CONTROLLING FUMES NECESSARY?

Each different type of welding process gives off varying amounts of harmful fumes and gasses. Fumes contain small particles of metal and flux, carbon monoxide and carbon dioxide. Exposure to these fumes can cause many respiratory illnesses or even cancer. Studies by the HSE have concluded that welding fumes may be more harmful that previously thought. Companies must now provide adequate controls for welding operations regardless of duration. Additionally, these controls should remove the hazard at source as overall room extraction does not reduce exposure to the operator.

WORKPLACE EXPOSURE LIMIT

The workplace exposure limit (WEL) for welding fumes varies depending on the type of welding, materials,  or the filler rod and flux. For example, the 8 hour exposure limit for iron oxide is 5mg/m3, whilst the limit for chromium III is 0.5mg/m3. Because of the large differences in WELs and combinations of different welding processes, we recommend that exposure tests are carried out to determine your limits. For information regarding the WEL for specific welding operation visit the HSE website.

Welding Operator creating Fumes
Welding Fume Extraction Box

HOW TO CONTROL EXPOSURE

Workplace hazards should all be taken into consideration when planning on control measures. Protection of the worker should always be the first priority and employees should be included in the planning process. A system that is easy to use and does not impede workflow will be readily adopted by the workforce. We recommend a a combination of a centralised LEV and small portable welding extractors that can cover all aspects of your operations.

An LEV system coupled with easily manoeuvrable extraction hoods offers total flexibility and control for the operator. This allows them to position the hood as they move along the work piece and removing the toxic fumes at source before they can enter breathable space. General or overall extraction of a room is not generally accepted because this does not prevent the fumes reaching the operator. Risk assessments should be carried out in order to identify risks and implement control measures.

HOW TO ASSESS RISKS

When dealing with harmful substances a risk assessment should be completed.  We have put together an example on how you can evaluate your processes.

#1 Identify the Risks

The first part of the risk assessment should be to identify the hazards

#1 Identify the Risks

Look at the process and identify the potential hazards. What are the harmful fumes/gasses being emitted? who is effected and how far reaching is the exposure?

#2 How often is this used

Frequency of use is important when determining how to tackle control

#2 How often is this used

If an operator is welding in an open area for an hour, RPE could be used due to the infrequency. Long term welding operations should be controlled using more permanent measures.

#3 Change the Process

Are there safer materials or processed that could be used?

#3 Change the Process

Try to identify if its possible to change the process to reduce exposure. Could a different material be used? Could pre-cut or pre-finsihed materials be used to reduce the welding process?

#4 Which Controls Work

Determine if and what controls should be implemented to reduce the risk

#4 Which Controls Work

Based on the information what controls best suit your environment? can extraction be added? if no there are no suitable controls RPE can be considered

#5 Consider PPE/RPE

This should be the last resort when identifying control measures

#5 Consider PPE/RPE

If there are no other methods available to control the fume and the process can’t be changed, then PPE/RPE can be considered. A separate risk assessment should be undertaken

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