The Health & Safety Executive (HSE) has issued a safety alert based upon new scientific evidence from the International Agency for Research on Cancer, that exposure to mild steel welding fume can cause lung cancer and possibly kidney cancer in humans.
The HSE states that The Workplace Health Expert Committee has endorsed the reclassification of mild steel welding fume as a human carcinogen.
With immediate effect, there is a strengthening of HSE’s enforcement expectation for all welding fume, including mild steel welding, because general ventilation does not achieve the necessary control.
Control of the cancer risk will require suitable engineering controls for all welding activities indoors e.g. Local Exhaust Ventilation (LEV). Extraction will also control exposure to manganese, which is present in mild steel welding fume and can cause neurological effects similar to those of 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, and welders must be suitably instructed and trained in the use of these controls.
HSE has stated that regardless of duration, it will no longer accept any welding undertaken without any suitable exposure control measures in place as there is no known level of safe exposure.
Risk assessments should reflect the change in the expected control measures.
For further information, including details of the action required by those who undertake welding activities, including mild steel, in any industry, can be found here on the HSE website.