What is a Welding Fume?
That is a very important question. By knowing what a welding fume is we can understand why it is dangerous and why we need to control the operators exposure to it. According to the Health and Safety Executive the fume given off by the welding and hot cutting process is a varying mixture of airborne gases and very fine particulates which, if inhaled, can cause ill health. A good example of a fume is smoke.
Lets Expand on that some more.
The welding Fume is created when a metal is vaporised (heated above its liquid boiling point) and the resulting vapours cool and condense into very fine solid particulates - more commonly known as dust. Around 95% of the welding fume is created by the welding consumable. This process also creates hazardous gases.
The types of gases and solid particulates vary from the type of material being used, the type of welding consumables in use, if shielding gases are in use and also things like material condition and tool cleanliness.
How is This Dangerous?
The solid particulates in the dust are broken down into two main groups – Inhalable and Respirable.
The Inhalable group includes all those particles up to 100 microns – 0.1mm. Inhalable dusts are breathed in through the mouth and nose. You can often taste and smell them and they can cause harm to the mouth, nose and throat.
The Respirable group contains dust particles up to 10 microns – 0.01mm. Respirable dusts are small enough to pass into your lungs into the bronchi and alveoli of your lungs. Once the solid particulates are in there they don’t come out. The different types of dusts and gases in welding fumes can pose a wide range of significant health risks.
What Sort of Materials and Gases are in Welding Fume?
Gases such as Carbon Monoxide, Carbon Dioxide, Nitrogen Oxides and Ozone are produced during welding. The dangers of Carbon Monoxide are well documented. It can be readily adsorbed into the blood stream and can cause headaches, dizziness, muscular weakness and high enough concentrations or exposure can cause unconsciousness and death.
Nitrogen Oxide can cause irritation to the eyes, nose and respiratory tract. Repeated exposure can cause long term health effects such as emphysema – fluid on the lungs.
Ozone in lower concentrations can cause headaches and irritation to the eyes. Long term exposure can cause fluid on the lungs, significant changes in lung function and even haemorrhaging.
All of the above are caused by the welding Arc – its not just Arc Eye you have to worry about.
The other consideration is the Arc will also use the oxygen in the immediate space around it. Welding in confined spaces can cause dizziness, confusion and even asphyxiation (suffocation) and can kill.
The list of solid particulates in welding fume makes for pretty scary reading. Let’s start at the welding rod. These often contain Nickel, Copper and Chromium (amongst other things).
Copper can cause Metal Fume Fever – chills, nausea, headaches, pneumonia, chest pain, muscles aches, fatigue, joint pains, shortness of breath. Sever cases can cause burning sensations in the body, shock, no urine production, collapse, convulsions, jaundice, vomiting and bloody diarrhoea.
That’s just Copper.
Chromium in many forms is a know cause of cancer, primarily lung cancer.
Nickel exposure has been known to increase the risk of developing cancer, cause eye, nose and throat irritation, dermatitis and lung problems.
Stainless Steel often contains Cadmium Oxides (suspected carcinogen, kidney damage, emphysema, skin irritation and irritation or damage to the breathing system), Chromium (see above), Molybdenum (Acute eye, nose and throat irritation and breathing difficulties), Nickel (see above) and Vanadium (bronchitis, retinitis pneumonia, emphysema and irritation to the skin, eyes and respiratory tract).
Many other metals contain Iron Oxides (Siderosis – benign form of lung cancer), Lead (lead poisoning), Zinc (Metal Fume Fever) Manganese (Metal Fume Fever and long-term damage to the nervous system) Beryllium (Metal Fume Fever, Cancer and damage to the respiratory tract) and Aluminium (respiratory irritant)
Protecting the Welder
The Health and Safety Executive (HSE) is very clear on this. Welding fume is covered in the Control of Substances Hazardous to Health (COSHH) 2002 Edition (amended) as per Regulation 7.
You legally have to provide/ use controls and protection against welding fume. The easiest way to do this is with extraction.
Extraction for welding can take on many forms. It can be “on torch” so the fume and dust is removed at source, or it can be via a dedicated welding arm so the fume is drawn away from the operator (back or to the side) before they breath it in.
Many systems nowadays use special filters to “scrub” the fume laden air and return the cleaned air back to the work place. These systems can range from small singe user products like the KEMPER Minifil or KEMPER SmartMaster up to integrated Centralised Systems.
Many filtered systems are W3 IFA certified to remove carcinogenic materials.
You wouldn’t weld with out a welding mask to protect your eyes and face from the Arc light, nor would you risk burning yourself from slag and sparks by not using gloves or protective coveralls so don’t risk the rest of your body by breathing in very toxic and potentially life-threatening fumes.
Call Vodex Today to help you choose the right protection from Welding Fume.
If you wish to know more you can either contact us to discuss or see the below HSE documentation.
The Heath and Safety at Work Act 1974
The Control of Substances Hazardous to Health
Health and Safety in Engineering Workshops – HSG129
Welding, Flame Cutting and Allied Processes – HSG139
The Control of Airborne Contaminates at Work – HSG258
HSE Website: Fume Facts