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Welding Fume Extraction, Do I Need It?

By Ralph Large

Welding Fume Extraction, Do I Need It?

In 2019, the HSE (Health & Safety Executive) upgraded the risk posed by welding fumes to a Group 1 carcinogen. This means that there is evidence to suggest that welding fumes can cause serious health concerns in humans. With this classification comes a new level in standards for the precautionary measures an employer must take to control and contain risk. Here, we look at the hazards posed by welding fumes, the best control measures, and which processes are required by law.

Are welding fumes dangerous?

In short, yes, welding fumes can pose danger to humans. Depending on what materials are being welded, the fumes produced can be a mixture of hazardous gasses including Nitrous oxide, Carbon monoxide, Argon, Carbon dioxide as well as iron oxide, copper oxide, magnesium oxide and lead oxide. Their Group 1 carcinogen classification indicates that there is enough evidence to suggest that they cause cancer in humans.

Do all welding fumes pose the same risk?

No, the fumes and contaminants will differ depending on the materials in use and the control measures in place. Here are just a few of the things that can affect the amount of hazardous particles in the air:

  • The type of welding process used
  • The practices of the welder
  • The air movement
  • The use of ventilation
  • The location – outside or enclosed spaces
How to control the risk posed by welding fumes?

The ‘Control of Substances Hazardous to Health (COSHH) 2002 Regulations, state that employers:

“Shall ensure that the employee’s exposure to substances hazardous to health is either prevented or, where this is not reasonably practicable, adequately controlled.”

There are three major ways to ensure exposure is prevented or controlled.

1.      Limit exposure

The first and seemingly most simple solution is to limit the individual’s exposure to welding fumes. Of course, for many, the option to simply “weld less” is unrealistic. There is the potential for automating the welding process, but this is a hugely costly endeavour and the price will be inhibitive to all but the largest organisations.

Another option is to limit the use of the most harmful chemicals. While Nitrus oxide, Argon, Carbon monoxide, Carbon dioxide are all undoubtedly risky for human inhalation, some are more hazardous than others. As above, there will be applications where the option to switch chemicals is simply not an option.

2.      Respiratory Equipment (RPE)

RPE for welding comes in many forms but is usually a type of mask combined with air feeding equipment. The legal requirements may vary depending on the task you’re undertaking. For example, a reusable half-mask with a P3 filter may be adequate for short use (less than an hour) and occasional welding sessions. If welding is carried out regularly and for longer time periods, a powered respirator should be provided with an assigned protection factor of at least 20. Both the Weltek Navitek s4 and the 3M Speedglas G5 provide PRSLTH2 filtration and conforms to EN166B, 175B, 379, EN12941. It is often recommended that mask wearers be clean shaven to ensure the RPE operates at maximum efficacy. RPE is usually recommended as a supplement to exhaust ventilation. If welding is carried out outdoors, then RPE may be sufficient protection.

If you’re looking for advice on the best RPE to use, contact a member of the Elmbridge team who will be happy to advise.

3.    Local Exhaust Ventilation

Local Exhaust Ventilation (LEV) is considered the most effective for protecting welders from hazardous fumes. In the case of LEV, fume extraction units are placed into the welding workspace to remove fumes and maintain clean, breathable air. If you’re welding indoors adequate LEV is a requirement by law.

Portable fume extractors such as the Kemper Profimaster Mobile Fume Extraction Unit allow for more flexibility, especially in smaller workshops etc. Wall mounted systems are also available.

We also provide options for extraction at the torch such as the Abicor Binzel FES-200 W3 which is another great way of reducing fumes.

Do I need welding fume extraction?

If welding is performed in a confined space then you’ll need professional welding fume extraction to prevent the accumulation of harmful toxins and combustible gasses. Welders should also use RPE for added personal protection.

The final word

At Elmbridge, our customers’ welfare is our highest priority. All of our masks and extraction units are designed to keep workers safe from harmful chemicals. Refer to the COSHH regulations for further information or contact a member of the team who will be happy to advise you.

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