Welding Fume Minimisation Guidelines

Weld Australia’s Informative Webinar on Weld Fume Provides Wealth of Valuable Information

Weld Australia’s newly formed Welding Safety Council recently facilitated a highly successful webinar on Welding Fume, Cancer and Other Hazards. Attended by over 100 people, the panellists included Bruce Cannon (Principal Welding Engineer, Weld Australia); Dr Paul Taylor (Director Chemical Policy, Safe Work Australia); Jackii Shepherd (Director Occupational Hygiene Policy, Safe Work Australia); Barry Chesson (Principal, Australian Institute of Occupational Hygienists); and Daniel Strachan (National Key Account and Sales Manager, Australian Welding Supplies). Attendees received a wealth of valuable information.

Weld Australia is aware that in March 2017, the International Agency for Research on Cancer (IARC) reclassified welding fume from Group 2B Possibly Carcinogenic to Humans to Group 1 Carcinogenic to Humans. Their assessment was subsequently published in IARC’s Monograph 118 in July 2018. The International Institute of Welding (IIW), through their Commission VIII experts, is evaluating the findings published by IARC and a position statement is being prepared.

Following discussions with Commission VIII, Weld Australia advises that current fume management recommendations remain valid and recommends the Fume Minimisation Guidelines and Technical Note 7 – Health and Safety in Welding are followed.

According to David Chippendale (Director of Marketing and Sales, AWS), “The important point to understand is that while the risk posed by welding fume is serious, keeping yourself safe can be straightforward.”

“Aside from cancer, welding fume can also cause serious long-term health effects like lung function abnormalities, including bronchial asthma, chronic obstructive pulmonary disease, pneumoconiosis and other pulmonary fibrosis. As well as stomach ulcers, kidney damage and nervous system damage. Recognising welding fume as carcinogenic and the other associated risks should encourage all employers of welders to consider reviewing their risk assessments for welding activities and revise where necessary their control measures.”

Risk Assessment

In compliance with National and State Work Health and Safety (WHS) Regulations, employers should conduct a thorough risk assessment to ensure that welders, and people working nearby, are protected from exposure to fumes from welding and welding-related processes (such as thermal cutting, gouging, and so on).

The following actions should be considered in the risk assessment:

  • Where practicable, remove the welder from the source of the fume by mechanising or automating the welding process.
  • In conformance with Weld Australia’s Fume Minimisation Guidelines, arrange the work piece so that the welder’s head is not in the plume.
    • Unless welding in the horizontal (PC or 2G), overhead (PD, PE, 4F, 4G) or vertical (PF, PG, 3F, 3G) position, the welder’s head is likely to be positioned within the plume, and fume management methods or personal protective equipment (PPE), or both, may be required.
    • All welding processes generate fume. The plume may not be visible to the welder or with some processes, the observer.
  • Relying on a light cross-draught in the vicinity of the welder’s face to ensure that the fume is either drawn or blown away from the welder’s breathing zone can be unreliable. Whilst mechanically assisted ventilation (such as a fan) can be utilised, cross-draughts sufficient to disperse fume may cause weld quality issues. Other fume management equipment such as fume extractors (fixed, downdraft or portable) may be required.
  • Utilise PPE such as respirator masks and air fed helmets if alternative methods of fume control are not reasonably practicable.

In addition, care should be taken to ensure that other workers are not exposed to the fume by allowing it to accumulate in areas away from the welding or welding related process. Specialist advice may also be sought from an Occupational Hygienist (such as the Australian Institute of Occupational Hygienists), particularly in the preparation and implementation of the risk assessment, and the verification of the application of the controls.

“If you are unsure whether the welding fume at your workplace exceeds the relevant exposure standard, you must ensure that air monitoring is carried out. For expert guidance on air monitoring in Australia, contact the Australian Institute of Occupational Hygienists as appropriate,” said Chippendale.

“One major misconception is that employees should be responsible for the purchase of their welding PPE. Under the Australian Work Health and Safety Laws, the employer is financially responsible for providing PPE to workers. As an employer, once you have selected the appropriate PPE, you must provide the worker with information, training and instruction in the proper use and wearing of that PPE – or engage reputable PPE suppliers who can do this on your behalf, such as AWS.”

Risk Mitigation

Where assessment indicates a significant health risk, decisions must be made on:

  • Appropriate control measures to minimise risk to health where prevention of exposure to hazardous material is not practicable.
  • Instituting periodic airborne contaminant monitoring.
  • Instituting health monitoring, including biological monitoring, to assist in assessing the effectiveness workplace controls.
  • Training shall be provided by the employer to all employees with potential exposure to hazardous chemicals on the health impacts and control measures, and should be commensurate with the identified risk.

How Welders Can Help Ensure Their Own Safety

Employees are required to:

  • Cooperate with the employer to ensure that activities within the workplace comply with the statutory requirements.
  • Report promptly to supervisors or managers any matter that might diminish the employer’s ability to achieve compliance.

“As a welder, you should aim to educate yourself on the risks, understand the appropriate PPE available and look to involve yourself in the consultation process and ultimate selection of suitable PPE at your workplace,” said Chippendale.

“Welding helmets with integrated powered air purifying respirators (PAPR) are one of the most widely used forms of respiratory protection amongst welders. They have a RMPF of 50, meaning that they supply breathing air a minimum 50 times cleaner than the welder would otherwise be breathing unprotected and also protect the welders’ eyes and face. When compared to disposable and reusable half-face mask respiratory protection, PAPRs provide superior respiratory protection and do not require fit-testing.”

“Generally speaking, PAPRs provide suitable protection to welders across the most common materials (aluminium, stainless steel, galvanised steel etc) and applications (MIG, TIG, Stick) where there is a good environment with forced ventilation,” said Chippendale.