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Welding fume exposure

What is the potential risk?

Workers who perform welding activities may be exposed to fumes that contain metals and chemicals, putting them at risk of illness and disease.

Welding heats metals to fuse them together. The process releases fumes that contain metal particulates such as manganese, iron, chromium (VI), nickel, cadmium, and zinc. The particulates released depend on the base metal and materials used as fillers (wire, rods) or coatings (flux). Workers may inhale the welding fumes, which could potentially lead to adverse health effects such as neurotoxicity, metal fume fever, chronic obstructive pulmonary disorder (COPD), and lung cancer.

There have been incidents of worker exposure to welding fumes in B.C. that have resulted in WorkSafeBC claims.

Welding activities occur in almost all industry sectors including construction, manufacturing, oil and gas, agriculture, and the services industry. This means a large number of workers may potentially be exposed.

What industries may be at risk?

  • Welding services
  • Metal product manufacturing and repair
  • Other manufacturing
  • Construction
  • Oil or gas drilling or servicing

How can I reduce the risk in my workplace?

As an employer, you need to know if there is the potential for the risk identified in this advisory to be present in your workplace. It’s your responsibility to regularly inspect your workplace, and to ensure that your safety procedures and practices control the risk. The following information highlights some of the sections of the Occupational Health and Safety (OHS) Regulation and Guidelines that are most relevant to this risk.

Section 5.57 of the OHS Regulation requires employers to develop an exposure control plan designed to maintain worker exposure to designated substances as low as reasonably achievable below the occupational exposure limit.

Manganese, a metal commonly used in steel, is a reproductive toxin and therefore a designated substance. Nickel and chromium (VI) are found in alloys such as stainless steel and are considered IARC 1 and ACGIH A1 carcinogens, and therefore are designated substances.

Part 5 also contains additional duties that the employer must perform in regards to the control of exposure, using the hierarchy of control, engineering, PPE, and administrative and work procedures to control worker exposure below specified threshold limits.

Sections 12.115 and 12.124 of the Regulation prescribe duties to the employer regarding fixed welding stations and the provision of respiratory protection.

Publication Date: Jan 2015 Asset type: Risk Advisory Reference: RA 2015-23