- The HSE have strengthened their enforcement expectations for all welding fume, including mild steel welding, because general ventilation does not achieve the necessary control. Control of the cancer risk requires suitable engineering controls for all welding activities indoors e.g. Local Exhaust Ventilation (LEV). Extraction will also control exposure to manganese, which is present in mild steel welding fume, which can cause neurological effects similar to Parkinson’s disease.
- Where LEV alone does not adequately control exposure, it should be supplemented by adequate and suitable respiratory protective equipment (RPE) to protect against the residual fume. Appropriate RPE should be provided for welding outdoors. You should ensure your welders are suitably instructed and trained in the use of any controls.
Regardless of duration, HSE will no longer accept any welding undertaken without any suitable exposure control measures in place, as there is no known level of safe exposure. See below to find out what you need to consider.
During the inspections HSE inspectors will be looking to:
- Assess the management arrangements in place for the control of risks from exposure to Asthmagens and carcinogens
- Complete a check to see whether a suitable and sufficient risk assessment has been completed and identified Asthmagens and/or carcinogens present at the workplace.
- Confirm if the risk assessment identifies control measures to reduce exposures levels to as low as is reasonably practicable.
- Check that appropriate control measures, including extraction, respiratory protective equipment (RPE) and other measures, to protect employees from exposure to Asthmagens and/or carcinogens are in place, and being used.
- Check if any employees potentially exposed to Asthmagens and/or carcinogens have received adequate instruction and training in the health risks associated with exposure, and why the correct use of equipment provided to control the risk is important.
Checks will be completed on Local Exhaust Ventilation Systems to ensure they are:
- Suitable for the purpose for which they are being used.
- Visually effective in extracting contaminant.
- Used properly by the worker.
- Supplied with a user manual and maintenance logbook.
- Damaged or have weak points, including damaged ducting or use of gaffer tape to repair damage.
- Maintained and inspected by a competent person (at least every 14 months).
In most situations, welding fume can be easily seen. If you can see that most of the fume is going up the extractor then the position of the extractor is about right.
Actual exposure can only be accurately measured by personal exposure monitoring.
Check RPE is:
- Appropriately selected for the wearer.
- Provided with face fit testing.
- Used, maintained and stored correctly.
Check RPE is being examined at suitable intervals; there is no specific time limit but consider:
- The environment the RPE is used in.
- The manufacturer’s instructions.
- The amount of use when setting an appropriate maintenance schedule.
- Check suitable cleaning methods used.
- Check if health surveillance is provided where appropriate.
- Check if exposure monitoring has been carried out, and if not confirm that the decision can be justified.
The exact level of risk of exposure to either the gases or particulate fumes will depend on several factors:
- What process you use (resistance welding, arc welding, flame or plasma cutting or gouging, automated or manual etc.)
- How toxic the welding fume is? This can vary greatly depending on the combination of the welding technique and the type of metal being welded.
- What filler wire/ consumables you are using. Aluminium, carbon steel, stainless or hard facing wires? Are you welding or cutting through any coatings, plating or contamination?
- How concentrated the fume is. This will depend on the set up of your working environment and the degree of ventilation you have in place.
- Where you’ll be welding and cutting (indoor, outdoor, confined or restricted space?)
- How long you are exposed to/breathing the fume. This will depend on length of the shift being worked and the intensity of welding.