The American Academy of Allergy, Asthma & Immunology has published a research report that confirms welders are highly susceptible to pneumococcal pneumonia infection.
The research study found that mild steel welding fumes have “high oxidative potential” and increase the ability of pneumococci (a type of bacteria) to adhere to and infect lower airway cells.
While this is not the first study to warn of the link between welding fumes and pneumonia, researchers specifically assessed the effects of mild steel welding fumes in terms of infection in the lower airway cells and lungs. They also tried to pinpoint exactly why welders are at an increased risk of contracting pneumococcal pneumonia.
The study, Exposure to welding fumes and lower airway infection with Streptococcus pneumoniae was carried out with mice. Originally published online in August 2015, the full report is now available free from the National Institutes of Health (NIH) digital archive, PubMed Central (PMC).
What is Pneumococcal Pneumonia Infection?
A very serious illness, pneumococcal disease is caused by Streptococcus pneumoniae, a type of bacteria that penetrates and infects the lungs, often causing sinus and middle ear infections, and pneumonia. The bacteria may also invade the bloodstream as well as the fluids and tissues that surround the spinal cord and brain, causing meningitis.
According to the National Foundation for Infectious Diseases (NFID), abut 4,800 people in the US die from the disease each year, and as many as 175,000 are hospitalized. The NFID, along with other US Government agencies, recommends the pneumococcal disease vaccine be taken by those most at risk.
Pneumococcal Pneumonia and Welders
The hazard of pneumonia for welders has been suspected for decades, and as long ago as 1994 researchers in the UK found strong grounds for “lobar pneumonia to be considered an occupational disease in welders.”
Lobar pneumonia affects the entire lobe of a lung, as opposed to bronchopneumonia that affects the bronchioles and alveoli that take air to and from the lungs and play an important role in the exchange of carbon dioxide and oxygen in the bloodstream.
A Canadian study published in the International Journal of Infectious Diseases in 2010 also found that welders are at increased risk of invasive penumococcal disease (IPD), particularly those who smoke. In their study report titled Welders are at increased risk for invasive penumococcal disease, the researchers recommended that:
- Welders be routinely vaccinated against the disease
- Welders who smoke should stop smoking
- Those in the industry should take ongoing measures to reduce welders’ exposure to metal fumes in the workplace
Another British study, published in 2013, looked at the benefits of vaccinating welders against pneumonia. This followed a UK Department of Health recommedation to this effect.
Researchers found consistent evidence that welders are more at risk from fatal pneumonia, particularly locar pneumonia. They found welders “die more often of pneumonia”, are hospitalised more frequently, and develop IPD more often. Their findings were exactly the same as those of the Canadian study, including the need to minimise welders’ exposure to welding fume.
As recently as May 2015 there was an serious outbreak of pneumococcal pneumonia infection among welders. This happened in Ireland and more than 450 welders were offered the vaccine – which isn’t complusory.
According to an Occupational Health & Safety Advisory Services (OHSAS) report, “Many employers (and welders) are unaware that exposure to welding fume can cause pneumonia.” Their advice was the same as that shownn above: vaccination; stop smoking; minimize exposure to harmful welding fumes in the workplace. However, they stressed that “prevention is better than cure,” and urged those in the welding industry to ensure “good control of exposure to metal fumes.” Extraction ventilation was especially important, they said.
Extraction Ventilation Helps Welders Avoid the Risks of Pneumonia
There are various types of welding smoke and fume extraction systems available in the US. The important issue is that whatever you choose to use in your welding workplace, big or small, it must be OSHA compliant, and it must be effective.
Kemper America has a range of air filtration and ventilation products to suit the needs of every welding business. With our help you will be sure to control exposure to metal fumes and protect your employees from the danger of pneumonia infection. Contact us to discuss the best solutions for your needs.