How to meet new rules on exposure to welding fumes

How to meet new rules on exposure to welding fumes

The Health and Safety Executive’s (HSE) new enforcement expectation regarding the control of exposure to welding fumes, including that for mild steel welding, came into force in February, following scientific evidence that suggests exposure to mild steel fumes can cause lung cancer and possibly kidney cancer.

The HSE subsequently reclassified these fumes as a human carcinogen, a change that requires all businesses undertaking welding activities to provide effective engineering controls, including controls on any resultant fumes and the use of Respiratory Protective Equipment.

The link between mild steel welding fumes and cancer

In 1989, scientists were wary of making a direct link between mild steel welding fumes and cancer, saying only that these fumes were ‘possibly carcinogenic’. However, recent research by the well-regarded International Agency for Research on Cancer (IARC) uncovered a direct causal link between mild steel welding fumes and lung cancer, and presented some evidence linking these fumes to kidney cancer. The findings lead the IARC to change the categorisation of these fumes to Group 1, the highest classification for cancer risk for humans.

As the organisation responsible for the cancer research for the World Health Organisation, the IARC’s declaration that welding fumes are carcinogenic lead the HSE to change its classification of the mild steel welding fumes and demand new standards from companies.

The HSE’s new enforcement expectations

A key consequence of the HSE’s new enforcement expectations regarding welding fumes is that general ventilation is no longer considered an adequate control.

Companies are expected to use suitable engineering controls, such as Local Exhaust Ventilation (LEV), to remove fumes from the area. However, this alone may not be considered adequate control to exposure to welding fumes. Suitable respiratory protective equipment (RPE) should also be provided to protect workers against exposure to residual fumes, if necessary.

The first step for businesses undertaking welding activities to take is to conduct a risk assessment for mild steel welding and update documentation according to their findings and to reflect the HSE’s change in expected control measures.

Companies then need to install LEV wherever welding is taking place, even if this is outdoors. If it is found that LEV cannot adequately deal with fumes, then RPE should be provided.

But updating the company risk assessment and providing LEV and RPE is not the end of a business’ responsibilities. Checking that all controls are applied correctly and regular, thorough examination and tests of those controls are also required. It is also essential to have an RPE programme in place, stating the use of RPE, how users are trained and that use is supervised. A record of regular checks, including checks before each use, is also required. Businesses will also need to correctly store and dispose of RPE, with policies for such storage and disposal recorded in the RPE programme.

Ensuring a perfect fit for RPE

When it comes to Respiratory Protective Equipment the fit is vital to prevent exposure to harmful fumes. For safety, comfort and seal, the mask should be measured to fit the individual and fitting should be carried out by someone who has undergone professional training.

Contego Safety Solutions offers a comprehensive range of workwear, safety clothing and equipment, PPE and accessories, and an unsurpassed level of customer service.

Find out more about Contego Safety Solutions’ extensive range by downloading the Contego Catalogue now, visiting our website or contacting our friendly team on 0800 122 3323 or

Published on 9 April 2019


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