By Rachel Morgan, MPH, ASP
EHS Specialist at Palmetto EHS
Welding is a necessary process used in many general industry and construction operations, however the welding process can expose welders to various metal fumes. The fumes generated contain metals such as aluminum, beryllium, cadmium, chromium, cobalt, copper, iron, lead, manganese, nickel, silver, tin, and zinc among others. Exposure to welding metal fumes can cause a variety of health effects. Acute exposure is often associated with nausea and irritation of the eyes, noise and throat, while chronic exposure is often associated with health effects such as lung and urinary tract cancer. Metal fume fever may also occur and cause symptoms such as fever, chills, achy muscles, nausea, headaches, and vomiting.
The potential exposure to welding metal fumes is dependent on a variety of factors, which include the type of welding being performed (MIG, stick, TIG, etc.), the ventilation controls in use (local exhaust ventilation, dilution ventilation, etc.), the air circulation/location of the welding (indoors, outdoors, confined space, etc.), the work practices of the welder, engineering controls used, the composition of the welding rods and the metals being worked on, etc. One way to determine if your controls and work practices are working properly and that your employees are not being exposed above the occupational exposure limits, is to conduct industrial hygiene sampling. The sampling will let you know if your workers are being exposed to welding metal fumes above or below the Permissible Exposure Limits established by OSHA for each applicable metal. Based on the results, you can then determine if additional controls are necessary.
If you have not performed any industrial hygiene sampling for welding metal fumes, or if you’ve made changes and need to update your sampling, contact us.