The Health and Safety Executive (HSE – the UK regulator) has released a safety alert for those undertaking welding activities, including mild steel, in any industry, and they will be strengthening their enforcement in this area.
This is because new evidence has led to mild steel welding fume being reclassified as a human carcinogen, meaning it can cause lung, kidney or other cancers.
If you carry out mild steel welding, there is an urgent need to review your risk assessments and control measures now. General ventilation does not control welding fume exposure adequately.
Welding fume is a complex and varying mixture of airborne particles, vapours and gases. Plated, painted, galvanised or degreased metals may cause additional inhalation exposure concerns.
Local exhaust ventilation (LEV) is required indoors, but if it is unable to completely control fume capture, then Respiratory Protective Equipment (RPE) is also required.
Follow these 6 steps to welding safety:
- Conduct (or review) your welding risk assessments immediately.
- Check your LEV system is effective enough to control welding fumes. General ventilation is not enough. LEV must be checked & maintained at least every 14 months.
- Communicate with your welders. Give them this new information and check their RPE is correct and used correctly. Face Fit Tests are required for workers wearing RPE or masks etc.
- Check with the manufacturer of your welding equipment to get their best advice.
- To maintain safe working equipment and practices, use a Safety Checklist that covers all safety aspects including equipment maintenance, refresher training, RPE checks etc.
- If unsure, ask for help. You may be carrying out welding safely but you must document a review based on this new information from the HSE. Email us for help if required: firstname.lastname@example.org
Finally: Regardless of the duration of exposure, the HSE will no longer accept any welding undertaken without suitable exposure control measures in place, as there is no known level of safe exposure.