Welding fume By Lawrence A. Kurtz, MSM, DOHS, ROH
What is welding fume?
The heat from welding vapourizes metal, fluxes, and coatings, producing airborne vapour. The vapour cools in the air, resulting in particles of metal and other material suspended in the air. This cloud of airborne particles is called welding fume.
Who is most at risk?
Welding fumes are produced during all welding activities including:
- air gouging
- tungsten inert gas (TIG) welding
- shielding metal arc welding (SMAW)
- flux core arc welding (FCAW)
- gas metal arc welding (GMAW).
- Sprinkler fitters
- Sheet metal workers
- Elevator workers
- Demolition workers.
How can welding fumes hurt me?
Welding fumes are easily inhaled and they can affect the nose, throat, and lungs.
Welding fumes can contain
- nickel and chromium (cancercausing metals)
- manganese (can cause Parkinson’s disease)
- cadmium (causes kidney disease and may cause cancer)
- shielding gases, such as nitrogen, carbon dioxide, and helium (asphyxiants)
- carbon monoxide (a chemical asphyxiate—it replaces oxygen in the blood and can prevent you from getting enough oxygen to your brain and vital organs)
- fluorides and acids in the fluxes (can irritate the lungs, sinuses, skin, and eyes).
- Use alternative processes that produce less fume and dust.
- Select less hazardous welding rods. Read the material safety data sheets (MSDSs) for the rods to evaluate the hazards.
- Weld outdoors and downwind from other workers.
- Use a fume extractor when working indoors.
- Remove grease and all coatings from the welding surface before welding. This is particularly important when working with lead-painted material.
- Position yourself so that your head is out of the fume.
- Keep the work area clean and free of combustible materials.
- Educate workers on the health effects of welding and how to protect themselves.
- Use appropriate respiratory protection if other controls are ineffective.