HSE: All Industries Must Control Welding Fume Exposures

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."

England's Health and Safety Executive announced this month 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."

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 agency pointed out.

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," the agency 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 reminds stakeholders that their risk assessments should reflect the change in the expected control measures.

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