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HSE issues safety alert over welding of mild steel

Cancer risk from fumes makes general ventilation no longer sufficient and changes are required with immediate effect

The Health and Safety Executive has issued a safety alert for all those involved with welding of mild steel, following new scientific evidence showing that the fumes can can cause lung cancer and possibly kidney cancer in humans. 

The Workplace Health Expert Committee has endorsed the reclassification of mild steel welding fume as a human carcinogen, which means general ventilation is no longer sufficient and that additional controls will be required. 

The new rules, which apply with immediate effect to all mild steel welding activity, regardless of duration, require controls such as local exhaust ventilation for any indoor welding.

The HSE said enforcement expectation will also be increased immediately:

”Regardless of duration, HSE will no longer accept any welding undertaken without any suitable exposure control measures in place, as there is no known level of safe exposure.”

The new rules follow new scientific evidence from the International Agency for Research on Cancer. 

Controls required

Control of the cancer risk will require suitable engineering controls for all welding activities indoors, such as Local Exhaust Ventilation (LEV). The HSE says this extraction will also control exposure to manganese, which is also present in mild steel welding fume, which can cause neurological effects similar to Parkinson’s disease.

Where LEV alone does not adequately control exposure, it should be supplemented by adequate and suitable respiratory protective equipment (RPE) to protect against the residual fume. ”Appropriate RPE should be provided for welding outdoors. You should ensure welders are suitably instructed and trained in the use of these controls.  Risk assessments should reflect the change in the expected control measures.”

Action required

  1. Make sure exposure to any welding fume released is adequately controlled using engineering controls (typically LEV).
  2. Make sure suitable controls are provided for all welding activities, irrelevant of duration.  This includes welding outdoors.
  3. Where engineering controls alone cannot control exposure, then adequate and suitable RPE should be provided to control risk from any residual fume.
  4. Make sure all engineering controls are correctly used, suitably maintained and are subject to thorough examination and test where required.
  5. Make sure any RPE is subject to an RPE  programme. An RPE programme encapsulates all the elements of RPE use you need to ensure that your RPE is effective in protecting the wearer.

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