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Control of welding fume: updated bulletin

19 March 2020

The Health and Safety Inspectorate (HSI) has recently published advice to all persons involved in welding following a Safety Bulletin issued by the UK Health and Safety Executive (HSE) highlighting new scientific evidence that exposure to all welding fume, including mild steel, can cause lung cancer.

Safety bulletin: mild steel welding fume on the UK HSE website

Due to this increased risk to worker’s health, the HSI has increased its enforcement expectation and expects all businesses undertaking welding activities to have appropriate controls in place.  An inspection programme began at the start of March but has now been temporarily suspended in view of the COVID-19 precautions currently in place.

Seven engineering and fabrication businesses were visited prior to the suspension.  The majority of these visits resulted in some form of enforcement requiring businesses to introduce suitable engineering controls such as Local Exhaust Ventilation (LEV) to control welding fume. 

The photograph below, taken on one of the visits graphically illustrates how the welder is exposed to the hazardous fume without LEV:

In addition to welding fume, an alarming number of power guillotines were discovered in workshops that did not have the required guarding to prevent access to the blade at the rear of the machine.  Enforcement action was also required in these cases to bring the machinery up to the recognised guarding standard.

Expected control measures

As a reminder for duty holders, where welding indoors cannot be avoided, LEV is expected which will remove the harmful fume before it enters the welder’s breathing zone.  Types of LEV include on-torch extraction; extracted booths or benches and moveable LEV.  Where LEV alone does not adequately control exposure, it should be supplemented with Respiratory Protective Equipment (RPE) to protect against the residual fume.

Appropriate RPE will be required for welding outdoors where LEV will not work.  Where welding regularly takes place for more than 1 hour, a powered respirator should be used.  For shorter duration work, a filtered half-mask or disposable mask with a protection factor of at least 20 (FFP3) will be required.  Tight- fitting RPE should be face-fitted to the wearer.  The expected control measures should be reflected in risk assessments.

In conducting risk assessments for welding, duty-holders are referred to: 

HSE leaflet WL3 Welding fume control     

This leaflet provides guidance on good control practice for welding in situations involving varying frequencies of welding and covers different types of welding such as MMA, MIG, TIG etc.  When carrying out visits inspectors will compare controls in place with WL3 Welding fume control.

Further Advice

Welding fume: protect your workers on the UK HSE website  

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