In 2015 BOHS, the Chartered Society for Worker Health Protection, in conjunction with the HSE and a number of other bodies launched an initiative called Breath Freely. This initiative aims to reduce occupational lung disease in the UK by raising awareness and providing tools to help employers identify and control the risks.
The initiative was initially targeted at the construction industry and has since been expanded to cover manufacturing. Exposure to welding fume has been identified as particular risk.
While the hazards depend on individual factors such as the type of welding, the material being welded, ventilation etc exposure to welding fume is associated with a number of health hazards including:
- Occupational asthma
- Metal fume fever
- Irritation of the lungs and throat; and
- Temporarily reduced lung function.
There are a number of actions that can be taken to reduce the risks from welding fume for example reducing or removing the need for welding by using alternative bonding techniques, selecting a welding technique that produces lower amounts of fume, making sure your welding kit is set up for optimum performance and reducing the amount of time welders have to work with their head in the fume cloud.
Where a risk from welding fume remains then action will need to be taken to control that risk. Common risk controls include the use of extraction systems and respiratory protective equipment. More detailed guidance can be found on the HSE’s website at: http://www.hse.gov.uk/welding/index.htm
What controls are most appropriate will depend on your particular circumstances. In order to help with making this choice the Breathe Freely campaign recently launched a web based tool which provides guidance on fume control for common welding tasks and provides guidance on topics such as on torch extraction, extracted tables and booths, flexible extraction arms and respiratory protective equipment.
You can find the Welding Fume Control Selector Tool on the Breathe Freely website at: http://www.breathefreely.org.uk/wst/
The tool only provides guidance on fume control and does not look at other hazards associated with welding such as electrical, fire and explosion hazards and it is important all risks are fully assessed. Please speak to your normal PIB Risk management contact or contact us using firstname.lastname@example.org if you have any questions.