Exposure to welding fume


15th December 2019

HSE Blitz Notice with focus on Exposure to Welding Fume

As part of HSE’s unannounced inspection work, there will be an increased focus on engineering and fabrication sites between January and March 2020.

You and your employees should address key health and safety risks, especially from welding fume exposure.

Welding fumes, including from mild steel, cause lung diseases, asthma and cancer.

Regardless of the welding duration, you must:

  • provide suitable exhaust ventilation (LEV) for all indoor welding activities, with respiratory protective equipment (RPE) for any residual risk, and
  • provide appropriate RPE for welding outdoors.

You can act now by assessing the health and safety risks at your workplace, and ensuring you have appropriate control measures in place. Free guidance on identifying the right controls for welding can be accessed here: http://www.hse.gov.uk/welding/index.htm

HSE recently revised its guidance on exposure to welding fume.

The Control of Substances Hazardous to Health direct advice for welding to help make sure exposure to any welding fume released is adequately controlled has been published, along with HSE’s web pages on how to manage exposure to welding fume.

In February, the HSE also released a safety alert about the change in enforcement expectations for mild steel welding fume.

There is new scientific evidence 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.

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.

Risk assessments should reflect the change in the expected control measures.

Action required:

  • Make sure suitable controls are provided for all welding activities, irrelevant of duration. This includes welding outdoors.
  • Where engineering controls alone cannot control exposure, then adequate and suitable RPE should be provided to control risk from any residual fume.
  • Make sure all engineering controls are correctly used, suitably maintained and are subject to thorough examination and test where required.
  • Make sure any RPE is subject to an RPE programme. An RPE programme encapsulates all the elements of RPE use you need to ensure that your RPE is effective in protecting the wearer.

For more information on the HSE Blitz – exposure to welding fume, please visit BSG’s Secure Area.