Welding fumes are known to be a serious threat to anyone who inhales them. It made headlines back in 2017 when the International Agency for Research on Cancer (IARC) reclassified welding fumes as a Class 1 carcinogen, based on new evidence of the harm it can cause.
What are welding fumes?
The composition of welding fumes differs depending on the application and method used. According to the Canadian Center for Occupational Health and Safety (CCOHS), it usually consists of two main elements:
Welding fumes: a complex compound of metallic oxides, silicates, and fluorides. Fumes are formed when a metal is heated above its boiling point, and its vapors condense into very fine, solid particles.
Welding gases: gases used or produced during welding and cutting processes. Welding gas can be produced by the decomposition of fluxes or from the interaction of UV light or high temperature with gases of vapors in the air.
How are workers exposed to welding fumes?
Naturally, welders face a higher risk of exposure to welding fumes and gases, but anyone who works near could also be endangered. This is particularly the case in confined spaces and indoors, where fumes can’t dissipate, thus increasing the hazard.
According to the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA), the process of welding produces harmful metal fumes and gas by-products that can easily enter the human respiratory system. These can have a cumulative impact on a workers’ health without necessarily showing immediate symptoms.
- Chills, thirst, and fever
- Eye, nose, and throat irritation
- Dizziness and exhaustion
- Headaches and nausea
- Lung, larynx, and urinary tract cancer
- Chronic respiratory problems: bronchitis, asthma, pneumonia
- Hearing loss
- Skin diseases
- Stomach and small intestine ulcers
- Kidney damage
- Nervous system damage
How can we protect welders?
To reduce welders’ risk of exposure to welding gases and fumes, the National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health (NIOSH) outlines steps to eliminate or minimize exposure in its hierarchy of controls.
These measures should be carried out per the latest standards, regulations, and required work practices to ensure improved workplace safety and compliance.
Process Elimination or Substitution
- When possible, try to eliminate the hazard by substituting for a safer process or welding method that minimizes the production of welding fumes.
- In some cases, this requires a physical change to the workplace, such as adding mechanical ventilation, local exhaust ventilation, and local capture devices.
Work Practice Control
- Administrative controls help prevent worker’s exposure by establishing best practices and good safety culture.
- You could introduce a plan and measures to run regular health checks on welders to make sure they are not overexposed.
Personal Protective Equipment (PPE)
- Establish and enforce a written respiratory protection program.
- Enforce proper training, including the use and knowledge of respirators.
- Implement respiratory protection, such as half-masks, powered air-purifying respirators (PAPR), or supplied-air respirators (SAR).
To select the right welding respirator, you need to consider the other features and capabilities required for the job. The right welding/grinding respirator should enhance safety, comfort, and productivity.
The RPB Z4 is designed with comfort as a top priority. Weighing only 1.77 pounds, this helps reduce aches and strains on your neck and back without sacrificing protection.