As a result of new scientific evidence being published, the HSE now expects a higher standard of welding fume control. What risk control measures should be implemented when welding is undertaken?
In 2017 a paper published by the International Agency for Research on Cancer (IARC) led welding fume being designated as a “Group one carcinogen”. A summary of IARC evaluation is available here and the IARC 118 monograph setting out the evidence is available here. It’s relatively rare for the IARC to put a substance in this group; there are only 100 in this category in total. This designation means that there’s evidence to prove that the substance is “Carcinogenic to humans”, i.e. it causes cancer.
As a result of the IARC’s reclassification, the HSE reviewed its current position on welding fume. It recognised that the standards of control it had previously described in its guidance would be insufficient to protect workers from the risk of cancer.
Previously, many businesses had assessed that natural ventilation was likely to provide adequate protection to staff when welding outside, particularly when the work was of short duration. Now, under the new standard, respiratory protective equipment (RPE) is to be used for all outdoor welding operations.
When the work takes place indoors the HSE expects the use of local exhaust ventilation (LEV). If LEV is unable to capture fumes effectively, RPE must be worn as well. It is important to note that the HSE expectation, irrespective of length of exposure, that appropriate control measures are in place.
Tip 1. Determine whether your LEV is likely to be effective in capturing the fume generated. This should take into account visual evidence and the results of your system’s thorough examination and test under the Control of Substances Hazardous to Health Regulations 2002 as amended. This examination and test is required every 14 months.
Tip 2. For occasional short duration welding, you should find that a disposable respirator (designed for welding fume) provides suitable protection. However, you may prefer the comfort of a filtered air-fed hood. This hood involves a much higher initial outlay but has several advantages, including that facial hair does not affect performance.
Tip 3. If in doubt regarding RPE, speak to a reputable specialist supplier. Once you’ve decided on a product, write the specification into your COSHH assessment. Ensure also that your COSHH assessment includes an evaluation of the risk of exposure to welding fume. This might require exposure monitoring.
Tip 4. Review your risk assessments, making sure that they reflect and take into account these stricter requirements. Ensure that staff are instructed in any revised safe system of work procedures. Remember that because welding fume is a hazardous substance, the legal requirements is to have a COSHH Assessment in place, not just a general risk assessment.
Note: Given that this is a hot topic, and that inspectors will be checking up on businesses on site, ensure that you review your arrangements against the expected control standards.
Read about the specific alert from the HSE here