Welding fume hazards

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Courtesy of Atlantic Environmental, Inc.

Welding is tough work.  Not many who begin as welders retire as welders.  Eventually practically every welder develops cataracts.  Neck and back problems are also a foregone conclusion.

There is also a long list of possible health problems depending on the type of welding.  Recently, the Occupational Health and Safety Administration (OSHA) identified hexavalent chromium as a suspect carcinogen and put out a new regulation on its exposure (29 CFR 1910.1026-General Industry) and (29 CFR 1926.1126-Construction).  The most likely exposure to “Chrome VI” is welding of stainless steel or chrome, especially when using chromium-containing welding rods when doing stick welding.

Other welding health hazards include:

Manganese From carbon steel or heavy production welding of other steel can cause nerve system damage resulting in Parkinsons Disease.

Nickel From nickel alloy electrodes, nickel plating, cryogenic steels—nickel, like Chromium VI, is a suspect cancer causing agent.

Lead Most steels have some lead, higher levels in maraging steel and from lead paint on existing metal surfaces.  It damages muscles, bone and nerves; especially dangerous to welders’ families with children 6 or under.

Copper Welding wires (MIG), Bronze, Copper Coating, and Copper Brazing, Brass—lung irritation.

Zinc Zinc plated metal, galvanized metals-metal fume fever—a flu-like illness.

Total Welding Fume Heavy production welding; welding inside a vessel, pipe or container without good air circulation—chronic respiratory problems.

Ozone MIG & TIG welding and aluminum welding—eye, nose, throat irritation, lung damage.

And that’s not all.  If you’re welding or cutting surfaces with paints, solvents, plastics and other coatings, there is a likelihood of exposure to decomposition products, such as oxides of nitrogen, phosgene, carbon monoxide and carbon dioxide.

Evaluating each working environment is essential. Under OSHA rules, it is generally required to identify hazards that are present and then to implement controls, such as ventilation, substitution of less hazardous materials for higher hazard ones, personal protective devices or more effective training.

Testing can be performed by a Certified Industrial Hygienist or an Industrial Hygienist.

A Certified Industrial Hygienist, by virtue of training, education and experience, has demonstrated the ability to recognize and test for hazards and to recommend appropriate controls.

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