Safety is a critical consideration for any welding project. Welding is a safe occupation when proper precautions are taken. But, if safety measures are ignored, welders and members of the general public face hazards that can be potentially dangerous, such as the inhalation of fumes and airborne contaminants.
In recent times, concerns around airborne contaminants generated by the welding process have been raised by industry, particularly following the reclassification of welding fume from Group 2B Possibly carcinogenic to humans to Group 1A Carcinogenic to humans by the International Agency for Research on Cancer (IARC) in March 2017. This reclassification was subsequently published in the IARC’s Monograph 118 in July 2018.
The International Institute of Welding (IIW) through their Commission VIII experts, are evaluating the findings published by IARC and a position statement is being prepared.
Following discussions with Commission VIII, Weld Australia advises that current fume management recommendations remain valid and recommends the new Technical Guidance Note Fume Minimisation Guidelines: Welding, Cutting, Brazing and Soldering and Technical Note 7 Health and Safety in Welding are followed.
Fume management recommendations
In compliance with National and State Workplace Health and Safety (WHS) Regulations, conduct a risk assessment to ensure that the welder and people working nearby, are protected from exposure to fume from welding and welding-related processes (for example, thermal cutting, gouging, etc.).
The following actions should be considered in the risk assessment:
- Where practicable, remove the welder from the source of the fume by mechanising or automating the welding process.
- In conformance with Weld Australia’s Fume Minimisation Guidelines, arrange the work piece so that the welder’s head is not in the plume.
- Unless welding in the horizontal (PC or 2G), overhead (PD, PE, 4F, 4G) or vertical (PF, PG, 3F, 3G) position, the welder’s head is likely to be positioned within the plume, and fume management methods or PPE, or a combination, may be required.
- All welding processes generate fume. The plume may not be visible to the welder or with some processes, the observer.
- Relying on a light cross-draught in the vicinity of the welder’s face to ensure that the fume is either drawn or blown away from the welder’s breathing zone can be unreliable. While mechanically assisted ventilation (such as a fan) can be utilised, cross-draughts sufficient to disperse fume may cause weld quality issues. Other fume management equipment such as fume extractors (fixed, downdraft or portable) may be required.
- Utilise personal protective equipment such as respirator masks and air fed helmets if alternative methods of fume control are not reasonably practicable.
Care should be taken to ensure that other workers are not exposed to the fume by allowing it to accumulate in areas away from the welding or welding related process. Specialist advice may also be sought from an Occupational Hygienist (such as registered members of the Australian Institute of Occupational Hygienists), particularly in the preparation and implementation of the risk assessment, and the verification of the application of the controls.
Weld Australia Initiatives
Following the IARC findings, Weld Australia has undertaken several major welding safety initiatives. These include:
- The formation of a national Welding Safety Council that includes representatives from industry, federal and state workplace safety regulators, and the Australian Institute of Occupational Hygienists.
- Commencing the development of a safety training and education package for welders, which is consistent with world’s best practice.
- The revision of Technical Note 7 Health and Safety in Welding.
- The revision and publication of the new Technical Guidance Note Fume Minimisation Guidelines: Welding, Cutting, Brazing and Soldering.
The Welding Safety Council
Given the serious safety implications for Australian welders, Weld Australia considers the following to be issues, in order of priority:
- Workplace health and safety (Welding Fumes and Electrical Safety);
- Non-compliant welding equipment (Electrical Safety);
- Integrity of welded structures and pressure vessels.
To address these safety issues, Weld Australia has established the Welding Safety Council. This Council will provide a forum for industry and legislative safety authorities to discuss issues and work collaboratively to identify solutions.
The vision of the Welding Safety Council is to eliminate loss of life or injury attributable to welding. The mission of the Welding Safety Council is to establish and maintain the infrastructure required to identify and analyse welding risk, engage its stakeholders in formulating mitigation strategies, and use its influence to execute those strategies.
By drawing together key government stakeholders, statutory bodies and industry into a single independent body focused on eradicating welding related injury, the Australian welding industry will be taking a significant step forward in protecting both the general public and welders.
Weld Australia’s Free Fume Minimisation Guidelines are now available
Weld Australia recently released a new Technical Guidance Note Fume Minimisation Guidelines: Welding, Cutting, Brazing and Soldering.
This free Technical Guidance Note includes all the information required to help protect your workforce from the hazards associated with welding fumes.
Be sure to download your free copy of the Fume Minimisation Guidelines from Weld Australia’s website: https://weldaustralia.com.au.
Fume minimisation seminars: register your interest now
Weld Australia is planning to facilitate a series of national seminars on how to mitigate the risk of welding fumes.
To register your interest in attending a seminar, please visit: http://bit.ly/fumesEOI
Article by Geoff Crittenden, CEO, Weld Australia