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Control of Exposure to Welding Fume

November 2019

Following new scientific evidence from the International Agency for Research on Cancer earlier this year, the Health & Safety Executive (HSE) has released new guidance on the controls required when welding.

  • There is new scientific evidence that exposure to all welding fume, including mild steel welding fume, can cause lung cancer.
  • There is also limited evidence linked to kidney cancer.
  • All businesses undertaking welding activities should ensure effective engineering controls are provided and correctly used to control fume arising from those welding activities.
  • Where engineering controls are not adequate to control all fume exposure, adequate and suitable respiratory protective equipment (RPE) is also required to control risk from the residual fume.

As a result of this new evidence there is a change in HSE’s enforcement expectations in relation to the control of exposure to welding fume, including that from mild steel welding. With immediate effect, there is a strengthening of HSE’s enforcement expectation for all welding fume, including mild steel welding; because general ventilation does not achieve the necessary control.

Control of the cancer risk will require 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 RPE to protect against the residual fume.

Appropriate RPE should be provided for welding outdoors. You should ensure welders are suitably instructed and trained in the use of these controls. Regardless of duration, HSE will no longer accept any welding undertaken without suitable exposure control measures in place, as there is no known level of safe exposure.

Updates have been made to ‘Toolbox Talk – Welding Operations’, ‘Toolbox Talk – Dust and Fumes’ and the ‘Hot Work Permit’. This is to show the updated information. The Site Risk Assessment for Fixing Structural Steel has also been updated.

The contents of this Newsletter are for reference purposes only and do not constitute legal advice. Independent legal advice should be sought in relation to any specific legal matter.

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