Welding Fumes: An Invisible Hazard
We have written about invisible hazards on our blog before. Today, we focus on one of the most severe: welding fumes.
Common hazards you may think about daily include careless vehicles on the road, j-walking pedestrians, and hot surfaces like stovetops. Meanwhile, there are also several invisible hazards which are no less risky and/or dangerous than those that are tangible. Welding fumes are a high risk invisible hazard when the proper health and safety precautions are not taken.
Invisible Does Not = Safe
The mentality that the hazards that we can see, or that are tangible, are taken more seriously needs to come to an end. Cutting your finger on an exacto knife at work is a hazard and an incident that everyone should take seriously, although if someone strains their wrist or back it often may not be taken as seriously, because it is not tangible and the impacts are not as easily seen.
The same thought process can be applied to the hazardous particles and compounds that we can breathe in. If we cannot see them, and the negative long-term impacts are years away, why do some employers and/or work cultures not take the risk as seriously as they should?
While losing a finger to a workplace accident would impact your day to day life in a negative way, repeated exposure to chemicals and welding fumes in your workplace for five or more years has the potential to impact your life in a much larger, bleaker way. The long-term impacts of exposure to welding fumes has serious impacts and negative outcomes.
The Severity of Weld Fume Exposure
Welding fumes contain a complex mixture of metallic oxides, silicates, and fluorides, among other things. No two welding projects produce the same mixture of gases, and the fumes generally contain particles from the electrode that was utilized and from the material being welded. Hexavalent chromium is of concern in welding fumes due to its highly carcinogenic properties.
Short term exposure to welding fumes can result in nausea, dizziness, and eye, nose, and throat irritation. Unfortunately, with repeated exposure individuals can become accustomed to the irritants in the air and may not associate or notice the short-term impacts from their environment. Prolonged repeated exposure to mixtures of welding fumes can lead to cancer in the respiratory and renal tracts. This can also result in kidney damage and a variety of other health problems.
Be Aware; Protecting Yourself & Others
As the individual doing the welding, or as someone in the shop or nearby vicinity where welding is taking place, it is important to know and understand the hazards and risks. If you are unaware of the risks, how are you able to take precautions to protect yourself? Educate yourself and your teammates on this topic as your first line of defense.
An important piece on information to note is that welding in an open or outdoor area may not be enough to ensure adequate respiratory protection by relying on the wind to carry the fumes area before they are inhaled.
It is the responsibility of the employer to ensure that workers are protected from respiratory hazards by providing proper respiratory protection for a task at hand. This involves providing an appropriate respirator or providing supplied breathing air depending on the circumstances of a welding project taking place. Fit testing and supplied breathing air quality checks are required as well.
Professionals at JADA Solutions (HSE) Inc. specialize in Occupational Hygiene Assessments such as this and can assist your business in monitoring and creating a management plan for welding fumes.
Our team can also help with fit testing and supplied breathing air quality checks. Please contact us below to get in touch with one of our professionals!