Welders should not weld in confined spaces without ventilation, and they may require respiratory protection if ventilation and the work practices being employed fail to reduce exposures to safe levels.

Welders' Protection By the Book

The protective measures and equipment that welders require are spelled out in OSHA's 29 CFR 1910.252, the welding, cutting, and brazing standard.

Being exposed to welding fume and gases is one of the leading hazards faced by welders. Burns and electrical shock are significant hazards, as well.

England's Health and Safety Executive (HSE) signaled its increased concern about welding fume when it announced in February 2019 that, regardless of the duration a worker may be exposed to welding fume, it will no longer accept any welding undertaken without any suitable exposure control measures in place—because there is no known level of safe exposure, the agency stressed.

There is new scientific evidence that exposure to all welding fume, including mild steel welding fume, can cause lung cancer and limited evidence it is linked to kidney cancer, HSE pointed out in a notice it called a "change in enforcement expectations."

The agency stressed that all businesses undertaking welding activities should ensure effective engineering controls are provided and correctly used to control fume arising from those welding activities, and where engineering controls are not adequate to control all fume exposure, adequate and suitable respiratory protective equipment is also required to control risk from the residual fume.

The new scientific evidence is from the International Agency for Research on Cancer that exposure to mild steel welding fume can cause lung cancer and possibly kidney cancer in humans. The Workplace Health Expert Committee has endorsed the reclassification of mild steel welding fume as a human carcinogen.

"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," HSE announced. "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 respiratory protective equipment (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 any suitable exposure control measures in place, as there is no known level of safe exposure."

The notice reminded stakeholders that their risk assessments should reflect the change in the expected control measures.

Welding fume is one of the hazards on which CPWR—The Center for Construction Research and Training's Exposure Control Database1 is focused. The ECD is an interactive tool for the construction industry that helps users predict exposure to those hazards, which also include silica, noise, and lead. When a user on the website selects Welding Fume, it prompts the person to select a type of hot work, consumable, base metal, control method, and environment in order to predict exposures.

An OSHA Fact Sheet2 on controlling exposures to hazardous fumes and gases during welding explains that welding outdoors or in open work spaces doesn't guarantee that there is adequate ventilation. Local exhaust ventilation systems can be used to remove fumes and gases from a welder's breathing zone, it says, pointing out that exhaust ports should be kept away from other workers. Employers should consider substituting a lower fume-generating or less toxic welding type or consumable, in order to reduce fume exposures.

Welders should not weld in confined spaces without ventilation, and they may require respiratory protection if ventilation and the work practices being employed fail to reduce exposures to safe levels, the fact sheet states. In fact, at 1910.252 (b)(4), the OSHA Welding, Cutting, and Brazing standard simply says, "Ventilation is a prerequisite to work in confined spaces."

Welding Standards
The U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) has reported that the employment of welders, cutters, solderers, and brazers is projected to grow 6 percent from 2016 to 2026, about as fast as the average for all occupations. The nation’s aging infrastructure will require the expertise of welders, cutters, solderers, and brazers to help rebuild bridges, highways, and buildings, according to BLS.

The protective measures and equipment that welders require are spelled out in OSHA's 29 CFR 1910.252, the welding, cutting, and brazing standard. Section (b)(2) of the standard addresses eye protection that must be provided. The standard refers to OSHA 1910.133, which contains charts listing the minimal shade numbers needed for protecting welders' vision. 1910.133 also states that welders' lenses must comply with the ANSI/ISEA Z87.1-2015 standard,3 the American National Standard for Occupational and Educational Personal Eye and Face Protection Devices. This standard encompasses the design, performance specifications, and markings of all types of eye and face protection, including welding helmets, goggles, faceshields, and spectacles.

The most common injuries suffered by welders are burns and eye injuries. The right PPE for them—including protective apparel, protective footwear, gloves, welding helmets, and respiratory protection—is covered by both 1910.252 and 1910.132, OSHA's general PPE standard, which directs employers to perform a hazard assessment before PPE is selected and training of workers begins. Once they are trained, workers should understand what PPE is needed and when, its limitations, and proper care and maintenance of their protective equipment.

The AWS Z49.1-88 Standard, Safety in Welding and Cutting and Allied Processes, is another important standard. It covers all aspects of safety and health for welding operations and is available from the 100-year-old American Welding Society, www.aws.org.

Fire and Shock Hazards
OSHA lists these as the basic precautions for fire prevention when performing hot work:

  • Perform hot work in a safe location or with the fire hazards removed or covered.
  • Use guards to confine the heat, sparks, and slag and to protect fire hazards that cannot be moved.

Welding and other types of hot work should not be done where flammable vapors or combustible materials exist, and both the work and the equipment being used by the welder(s) should be placed outside any hazardous area, according to OSHA. The 1910.252 standard says personnel should act as a fire watch while hot work is being done in locations where:

  • appreciable combustible material—building construction or contents—is closer than 35 feet from the work
  • appreciable combustible material is more than 35 feet away but is easily ignited by sparks
  • wall or floor openings within a 35-foot radius will expose combustible materials in adjacent areas, including concealed locations in walls or floors
  • combustible materials are adjacent to the opposite side of metal partitions, walls, ceilings, or roofs and are likely to be ignited

The standard also says fire watch personnel must:

  • have fire extinguishing equipment readily available and have been trained on how it is used
  • know how to sound an alarm in case of a fire
  • watch for fires in all exposed areas, but try to extinguish them only when they are "obviously" within the capacity of the extinguishing equipment that is available; if not, they should sound the alarm
  • maintain the fire watch for at least 30 minutes after welding or cutting is completed, in order to detect and extinguish possible smoldering fires

Most welding equipment has a voltage that presents a risk of electric shock. The OSHA page titled "Controlling Electrical Hazards" is a good resource for understanding the causes of electric shock and how to protect workers from electrical hazards through equipment de-energization, PPE, training, and work practices—including keeping electric tools properly maintained and using appropriate PPE.

1. http://ecd.cpwrconstructionsolutions.org/
2. https://www.osha.gov/Publications/OSHA_FS-3647_Welding.html
3. https://safetyequipment.org/product/ansiisea-z87-1-2015/

This article originally appeared in the April 2019 issue of Occupational Health & Safety.

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