Following 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.
So, with immediate effect, there is a strengthening of the HSE’s enforcement expectation for all welding fume, including mild steel welding; because general ventilation does not achieve the necessary controls.
All businesses undertaking welding activities should ensure effective engineering controls are provided and correctly used to control fume arising from those welding activities.
This is usually LEV (Local Exhaust Ventilation) of adequate design, both fixed-type or mobile LEV with sufficient filter requirements.
Where engineering controls are not adequate to control all fume exposure, adequate and suitable respiratory protective equipment (RPE) is also required to control risk from the residual fume.
This is typical when welding outdoors, as this also needs to be taken into account.
To have an effective ‘RPE programme’, you will need to:
- Correctly select RPE.
- Train for correct use.
- Ensure correct use (including supervision).
- Check to ensure RPE is working correctly before each use.
- Maintain RPE in accordance with manufacturer’s instructions and law.
- Keep records as required by law.
- Correctly store RPE.
- Correctly dispose of RPE.
Any shortcomings in one of the steps in the programme could result in wearers not receiving adequate protection.
Important Information: If your business carries out any of the above welding functions, please be informed that as part of the HSE’s unannounced inspection work, there will be an increased focus on visiting engineering and fabrication sites between January and March 2020; and as such, you must ensure you are compliant with the law before an inspector visits.
You and your employees should address key health and safety risks, especially from welding fume exposure. Welding fumes, including those from mild steel, cause lung diseases, asthma and cancer.
Regardless of the welding duration, you must:
- provide suitable local 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.
Further guidance on identifying the right controls for welding can be accessed here: