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?

Important changes – Why?

In 2017 a paper published by the International Agency for Research on Cancer (IARC) led to welding fume being designated as a “Group one carcinogen”. 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.

HSE’s response

As a result of the IARC’s reclassification, the HSE reviewed its current position on welding. 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. There was clearly some significant work carried out in the background at the HSE as it was not until 14th January 2019 that it announced any changes.

What changes have the HSE made?

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 HSE 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.

What should business owners do?

Tip 1. Determining whether your LEV is likely to be effective in capturing the fume 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. 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. Safety Aide have negotiated with one such supplier, Weldability SIF – contact them on 01462 482200 quoting “SRC-CS4009”. Once you’ve decided on a product, write the specification into your COSHH assessment.

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 method of work. Safety Aide have created a safe working practice to provide to staff. To download your free copy – please click here.

Note. Given that this is a hot topic, and that inspectors will be checking up on businesses on site, it’s time to review your arrangements against the new expected control standards before the HSE come knocking.

As welding fumes have been classified as a carcinogen, respiratory protective equipment (RPE) is required, even when welding takes place outside. Inside you’ll need extraction equipment and possibly RPE as well. Make sure your methods of work and documentation are up to date.