What are the Dangers of Welding Fume?
A commonly asked question by many fabrication and manufacturing workshops across the UK and Ireland is what are the dangers of welding fume? In this blog, we’ve assessed what welding fumes are, how the different compounds affect your body, the risks associated to exposure and the best control measures to reduce risk.
Are Welding Fumes Harmful?
In short, yes! An evaluation was released in 2018 by the International Agency for Research on Cancer (IARC) which concluded: “There is sufficient evidence in humans for the carcinogenity of welding fumes. Welding fumes cause cancer of the lung and positive associations have been observed with cancer of the kidney.” IARC Monographs on the Evaluation of Carcinogenic Risks to Humans Welding, Molybdenum Trioxide, and Indium Tin Oxide (Volume 118).
Are Welding Fumes Bad for Your Health?
Very! Welding fumes consist of a number of different elements, dependant on the materials being used. Below is an infographic which details the breakdown of the different elements and compounds that are generated from the welding process. These contaminants effect the human body in different way and can put welders at significant risk of developing occupational illnesses.
- Arsenic – Arsenic and inorganic compounds are present in all methods of welding and can adverse an impact on the health of human’s lungs, skin, urinary, bladder, prostate, kidney and liver.
- Beryllium – Beryllium and beryllium compounds form from the hardening agent in copper, magnesium, aluminium alloys and electrical contacts and affect the lung.
- Cadmium – Cadmium and cadmium compounds are present on the platings of base metals and stainless steels which contain cadmium. This element impacts the lung, kidney and prostate.
- Chromium – Chromium VI compounds are found in stainless steel alloy and also in welding rods and has is detrimental to the lung, nasal sinuses and nose.
- Formaldehyde – Formaldehyde can be found in metal coatings and degreasing solvents. This chemical causes damage to the nasopharynx (the part of the throat at the back of the nose), nasal sinuses and there’s evidence to suggest it can cause leukaemia.
- Lead – Inorganic lead compounds are present in solder, brass and bronze alloys; welding on lead-coated/containing materials, which affects the stomach.
- Nickel – Nickel compounds are found in stainless steel and also in welding rods and there is evidence to suggest it can cause damage to the lungs, paranasal sinuses and nasal cavity.
- Iron oxides – Iron oxides are given off during the welding process as its one of the main components of steel, which affects the lungs.
How are Welding Fumes Harmful?
Welding fume can cause two types of cancer in parts of the body; lung cancer and a type of kidney cancer who were exposed. Clinical trials were assessed where by welders exposure to both gas and arc welding, smoking and asbestos were observed. A correlation between welding activities at work and respiratory symptoms was observed. The research concluded that the increased risk of lung cancer among welders can be attributed to exposure of welding fumes.
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How do I Control Welding Fume Exposure?
Businesses are advised by the HSE to
- Avoid or reduce exposure
- Use local exhaust ventilation (LEV) to remove the welding fumes produced, at-source
- Use suitable respiratory protective equipment (RPE), for example a facemask, to protect workers from inhaling fumes.
What is Welding Fume Made up From?
Fumes are produced when metals are heated above their melting point, vaporise and condense into fumes with predominantly fine solid particles with a diameter less than 1 µm. The English Oxford Dictionary defines a fume as an amount of gas or vapour that smells strongly or is dangerous to inhale. Adding further depth into what a fume is, the HSE defines welding (and hot cutting process) fume as a varying mixture of airborne gases and very fine particles, which if inhaled can cause ill health. The health risk from the gases found in the fume cloud becomes as important as the risk of metal particles in the fume. The fumes are a complete mix of particles from the wire or electrode, the base metal and any coatings on the base metal (paint, metalworking fluid, plating etc.) (Hewett, 1995a; Warner 2014). The distinction between welding fumes and welding gases is that fumes contain solid particles that are temporarily suspending in the air to a solid material being heated (such as metals), whereas gasses are molecules in a gaseous state in the ambient air that have either been generated by or are used in the welding process. The visible part of the welding fume cloud is formed from predominately metal particles, metal oxide and flux (if used), whilst the exact level of risk from the fume will depend on three main factors:
1. The Toxicity
The toxicity of the fume varies depending on the welding process and the materials being used to weld and being welded.
2. The Concentration
The plume of fumes generated from the welding process the ones that rise from the welding point. By having local exhaust ventilation (LEV) at-source, or as close as possible to the welding point reduces the risk of fumes dispersing into the workplace.
3. The Inhalation Duration
It all depends on how long a member of staff is welding for. Some welders weld for a couple of hours a day, whilst others weld all day. The longer the arcing time, the more fumes are being produced, which in turn, raises the risk of airborne fume.
What are the Airborne Gases?
The gases found in welding and cutting fume are nitrous oxide (NOx), nitric oxide (NO) and nitrogen dioxide (NO2) which are both often referred to collectively, in this sector of work as nitrous oxides (NOx), carbon dioxide (CO2), carbon monoxide (CO), shielding gas (e.g. argon, helium) and; ozone (O3).
What is Welding Fume Extraction?
Have you read our blog, titled ‘What is Welding Extraction?‘ In this blog, we’ve broken down what welding fume extraction is and how to best which explains how best to control exposure in your workplace.