Identifying and Mitigating Welding Fume and Gas Exposure Hazards

The American Board of Industrial Hygiene® reminds workers and industry of the need to protect employees involved with welding, cutting and brazing.

Lansing, MI -- According to the Occupational Safety & Health Administration (OSHA), there are over half a million workers in the United States that are involved with welding, cutting and brazing. Worldwide, the number of workers involved in these activities is in the millions.

OSHA states that welding, cutting and brazing are hazardous activities that pose a unique combination of both safety and health risks. The welding process produces visible smoke that often contains harmful metal fumes and gas by-products. This leads to one of the significant health risks involved, exposure to these substances. In fact, OSHA has developed a Fact Sheet specifically about controlling hazardous fumes and gases during welding that also includes standards applicable to welding.

The Canadian Centre for Occupational Health and Safety (CCOHS) lists asphyxiation, fire or explosion, and toxicity as hazards associated with welding gases. As far back as 1990, the International Agency for Research on Cancer (IARC) categorized welding fumes as Group 2B, possibly carcinogenic to humans.

“Welding fumes and gases can potentially contain everything from lead, hexavalent chromium and cadmium to nitric oxide and carbon monoxide to name just a few substances,” said David Roskelley, CIH® and Chair of ABIH®. “OSHA lists the potential health effects of exposure to these airborne pollutants and they range from respiratory irritation and various types of cancer to ulcers and nervous system damage.”

Workers have a right to a safe work environment and Certified Industrial Hygienists (CIHs) are uniquely qualified to protect those involved with welding, cutting and brazing activities.  CIHs are trained in risks assessments; air sampling and instrumentational analysis; chemical and biohazards; engineering controls and ventilation; health risk analysis and hazard communication; and work environments and industrial processes. This knowledge, and the proper use of personal protective equipment, can be instrumental in reducing exposure risks. The expertise of CIHs also helps to keep companies in regulatory compliance and avoid costly noncompliance penalties. 

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