Welding fumes are deadly, and anyone who is working on metal surfaces doing welding, cutting, brazing, or anything that involves ”burning” metal is at risk if they don’t use proper ventilation or respiratory solutions.
Because it’s no secret that welding fumes can kill, it is vital to follow accepted industry practices in terms of proper ventilation and welding fume removal, preferably with a good quality industrial welding exhaust system.
The Most Common Welding Gas and Fume Hazards
When there is a lack of welding fume removal, different types of welding jobs create different hazards. Similarly, the dangers that are produced during the welding process vary depending on the gases and other toxins that are created.
Warning of the serious dangers of doing “hot work” on any type of metal surface, The Center For Construction Research And Training (CPWR) in the US reminds welding businesses of the laws that require proper ventilation in the workplace. Additionally, CPWR states that not only does the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) require ventilation that provides sufficient oxygen and low toxic vapors and gases for welders, but “so do your lungs.”
Detailing the most common hazards welders should be aware of, CPWR lists health problems that are:
- Serious to deadly
Non-fatal Health Problems Due to Inadequate Welding Fume Removal
Hot work carried out on galvanized steel or metal that has been painted with a coating containing zinc can lead to metal-fume fever. The symptoms are flu-like, but the pass reasonably quickly.
Generally any lacquer, paint or solvents on metal should be removed prior to welding, burning or cutting, because they are known to generate toxic fumes when heated.
Irritating Health Problems Due to Inadequate Welding Fume Removal
Both MIG and TIG welding processes create ozone and nitrogen oxides that irritate the eyes, ears, nose, throat and lungs. These can also damage the lungs, especially when welders are exposed to these fumes over long periods of time.
Serious Health Problems Due to Inadequate Welding Fume Removal
Serious health problems can result from welding mild steel and stainless steel as well as welding or cutting metal that still has paint or other coatings on the surface. Welding steel creates fumes containing manganese; welding stainless steel creates fumes containing nickel and chromium; and cutting or welding painted or coated metal can create fumes that contain lead, cadmium and various other toxins.
The content of the fumes determines the potential health problems:
- Manganese can lead to serious long-term nerve damage that has similar symptoms to Parkinson’s disease
- Nickel and chromium can cause serious asthma and even lung cancer
- Lead and cadmium commonly cause reproductive and nerve damage and may result in kidney disease or cancer
Deadly Health Problems Due to Inadequate Welding Fume Removal
There is a risk of deadly health problems when MIG welding is carried out using shielding gases that contain carbon dioxide (CO2) because it creates carbon monoxide (CO). Similarly deadly health problems are sometimes caused by welding near or through solvents that contain chlorine, because it creates fumes containing phosgene.
With exposure to phosgene, fluid can fill the lungs within hours. Exposure to CO is just as deadly as it can reach poisonous concentrations as the CO2 gas displaces fresh air and causes suffocation.
Serious to Deadly Health Problems Due to Inadequate Welding Fume Removal
Some of the worst welding hazards are created in confined spaces and employers have an obligation to both provide a good ventilation system and to test the quality of the air welders are working in. It is mandatory for welders to have “adequate breathable air,” particularly when working in confined spaces, and oxygen levels should be checked both before and during welding. Shielding gases (for instance those used for MIG welding) displace the oxygen in the air, so welding fume removal is vital when shielding gases are used.
Most shielding gases contain argon, an inert gas that is considered to be a dangerous asphyxiant in confined spaces because it is 38 percent more dense than air – even though it isn’t toxic! One of the dangers is that it is extremely difficult to detect because it is odorless, tasteless, and colorless. And because it reduces the oxygen in the air, welders risk suffocation because of a lack of “fresh” air.
Effective Ventilation Saves Lives
CPWR advises those in the business of welding to capture dangerous fumes and gases at source. By using an effective welding fume exhaust system the fumes will be removed before they reach the person doing the welding.
Kemper America provides solutions for demanding welding challenges relating to ventilation. These include powerful filtration units that remove dangerous welding smoke at source and return clean air to welding workspaces. The company also supplies indoor ventilation systems, including the innovative and highly effective CleanAir Tower, that can be used in work environments where local welding fume exhaust equipment is difficult or impossible to use. Examples include large workshops that have numerous work areas spread far apart, workstations that change often, and large work pieces that are being welded.
Contact Kemper today to discuss an effective welding smoke extraction system that will remove deadly fumes and gases and keep your employees safe and healthy.