This month the HSE advised that exposure to welding fumes (including mild steel welding) can cause lung cancer and possibly kidney cancer. The updated regulations are based on evidence from the International Agency for Research on Cancer and have been endorsed by The Workplace Health Expert Committee, who has since reclassified mild steel welding fume as a human carcinogen, meaning it can cause cancer in living tissue.

In response to this alert, we advise all businesses who have employees or contractors undertaking welding activities, to take immediate action and assess if their current respiratory protection is appropriate.

Follow our eight-step approach to protecting your employees and contractors against the mutagen effects of welding fumes.

  1. Be responsible. Conduct a risk assessment and check if your ventilation system is effective enough to control fumes as general ventilation is not enough to keep the workshop fume-free. During the risk assessment of the environment where welding takes place, ensure suitable local exhaust ventilation is either put in place or upgraded.
  2. Consult your welders. Communicate with your workers and find out what is right for each individual in terms of comfort and how the RPE impacts their ability to perform their work. A one size fits all approach is not necessarily the best solution.
  3. Get adequate RPE protection. Ensure your welder has the correct respiratory protection. Assess the work environment and hazards. Rely on an expert in RPE to assess your needs. As a benchmark, the minimum protection that should be worn is an auto-darkening welding headtop.  
  4. Don’t assume. Don’t rely on ‘common sense’ believing your workers already know how they should be protecting themselves. Fit test equipment to make sure everyone is safely protected.
  5. Check equipment. Any worker performing welding tasks will need to check their own equipment, including the ventilation systems on their welding guns. Check with the manufacturer of your welding equipment to get the best advice and make sure to get an understanding of service requirements to keep equipment in optimal condition.
  6. Invest to protect. Don’t skimp on costs, but the best protective respiratory protection doesn’t necessarily have to have the highest price tag. Finding the most appropriate solution is key to achieving the best protection.
  7. Maintain. Once you’ve reassessed your RPE requirements, create a regular schedule to monitor, maintain, and where necessary, upgrade equipment.
  8. Ask for help. Seek support from professionals in RPE to support you in your risk-assessments to determine your particular requirements and keeping your workforce safe.

Need help? We can help you with a review of your respiratory protective equipment to ensure that your workers have adequate protection. Request a Callback to arrange a RPE Review.