Health and Safety Risks Of Welding Fumes Exposure

Health and Safety Risks Of Welding Fumes Exposure

The generic term ‘welding’ refers to the union of two pieces of metal to form a strong joint. During this union, welding fumes are released which can pose a potential health risk to a welder. It’s important to note that the type and amount of fumes produced during welding can vary depending on several factors, including the type of welding process, the materials being welded, and the location of the work. 

Types of welding

The most common types of welding include: 

  • Flux core arc welding (FCAW), 
  • Shielded metal arc welding (SMAW), or more commonly known as ‘stick’ welding, 
  • Gas metal arc welding (MIG), 
  • Tungsten inert gas (TIG). 


What is found in welding fumes?

Metals commonly found are: 

Aluminum, Cadmium, Chromium, Cobalt, Copper, Iron, Lead, Manganese, Nickel, Zinc. 

Gases commonly found: 

Carbon Dioxide, Carbon Monoxide, Argon, Helium, Nitric Oxide, Nitrogen Dioxide, Ozone. 

Welders are regularly exposed to metal fumes, toxic gases, and ultraviolet or infrared radiation during welding. Overexposure to these hazards can result in various adverse health effects. 


Acute respiratory health effects of welding fumes 

Irritation to the throat and larger airways in the lungs

Inhaling welding fumes can lead to symptoms such as throat dryness, coughing, and chest tightness. During tungsten inert gas welding on stainless steel and aluminium, ozone gas is produced which could be responsible for this effect.  

Acute irritant-induced asthma 

Prolonged and intense exposure to inhaled irritants can trigger the development of asthma.  

Metal fume fever 

After welding, numerous welders experience symptoms similar to those of the flu, this is more common after mild steel and galvanized metal welding work.   

Acute pneumonia 

Welders face a heightened risk of developing pneumonia as a result of inhaling welding fumes. It affects young and older people and kills about two welders a year.  


Chronic respiratory health effects of welding fumes

Lung cancer 

According to the International Association for Research on Cancer (IARC), welding fumes are classified as Group 1 carcinogenic substances, meaning that they have the potential to cause lung cancer. 

Welder’s lung 

“Welder’s lung” is a term used to describe the accumulation of metal deposits in the lungs resulting from prolonged exposure to welding fumes. It is considered a benign form of pneumoconiosis, and welders with this condition may not experience any health issues on their own. However, if the welder also has chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD), welder’s lung can exacerbate the symptoms of COPD. 

Occupational asthma 

The presence of metals in welding fumes can lead to the development of Occupational Asthma. It is more frequently observed in stainless steel welding.  


Controlling health and safety risks of welding fumes exposure  

To reduce employee exposure to welding fumes consider implementing the following control measures: 

  • Substituting the current welding type with a lower-fume-generating or less toxic welding type, 
  • Provide employees with adequate training on the health effects of metal fume & gas exposure as well as the importance of proper use of PPE, 
  • Encourage employees to conduct welding tasks in a well-ventilated area, 
  • Local Exhaust Ventilation (LEV) systems can be used to remove fumes and gases from the welder’s breathing zone, 
  • In cases where work practices and ventilation fail to decrease the level of exposure, welding fume respirators should be provided to employees. 


Determine exposure to welding fumes with air monitoring

Welding can lead to numerous adverse health effects, ranging from acute symptoms like eye irritation and nausea to chronic respiratory diseases and cancer. Given the potential risks associated with welding fumes and gases, it’s essential for employers to implement appropriate control measures, including carrying out air monitoring, to determine the level of exposure and protect their workers from harm.  

By regularly monitoring the welding fume concentration in the air, potential health hazards can be identified, and appropriate controls can be implemented to minimize workers’ exposure to hazardous welding fumes and other substances. Regular air monitoring can also help ensure compliance with the Occupational Health and Safety Act and promote a safe and healthy work environment.