Fume can be fatal
Scientific research shows that exposure to all welding fume can cause lung cancer, and it has also been linked to kidney cancer. Businesses need to take responsibility for the safety of their employees and ensure that effective engineering controls are provided to control fume from welding activities.
There are estimated to be up to 80,000 welders in the UK. And every day these workers come into contact with welding fume.
Whether it is a full-time occupation, or just part of a job function, it has been shown that welding fume can be harmful to health, and in 2017 the International Agency for Research on Cancer (IARC) officially confirmed that welding fume can be carcinogenic.
Just before lockdown the Health and Safety Executive (HSE), the UK government agency responsible for workplace health and safety classified welding fume, including welding fume from mild steel welding, as a carcinogen and revised its guidance for workers’ protection.
Welding fume is mainly generated during electric welding with arc temperatures of more than 15,000°C. Under these conditions particles are produced that, without special protective measures, can be inhaled. Some welding fume is easy to see but much is invisible.
In 2018, the IPA Journal published a study showing a greater risk of lung cancer for full-time welders as well as for the people who had welded occasionally. The risk increased in both groups with increasing duration of employment, but was lower for occasional welders. The risks vary from industry to industry, depending on the type of work and materials.
For example, welders in shipbuilding, construction, machinery manufacturing and the repair of transport equipment have a higher risk of lung cancer than welders in vehicle manufacturing.
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.
If you think you may have been exposed to a cancer- causing agent, it is important to speak with your doctor.