Health and Safety Executive (HSE) inspectors are visiting fabricating metal premises due to the high number of new cases of occupational asthma.
In fact, welders are around 20 times more likely to suffer from a new case of occupational asthma than the average for all jobs combined. And with at least 190,000 workers being exposed to welding fumes in Great Britain alone, that's a worrying statistic!
Inspections will be focused on ensuring employers are doing all they can to protect their workers health against welding fumes.
So, what exactly are welding fumes and how do you protect yourself and others?
What Are Welding Fumes?
Welding fumes are the fumes produced during welding and hot cutting processes. They contain a mixture of airborne gases and fine particles which, if inhaled, can cause ill health, including chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD) and an increased susceptibility to pneumonia. Not only this, but HSE estimates that 150 work related deaths from cancer are caused by welding each year.
Stainless steel, in particular, creates fumes consisting of chromium and nickel. These are known to cause occupational asthma and are referred to as asthmagens. Techniques that create a higher level of fume are the most dangerous.
Other asthmagens include rosin (colophony) based solder flux flume, which is a substance released during soldering processes.
How Do I Stay Safe?
Assess The Risk
The law requires employers to eliminate or control exposure to any substances hazardous to health. Additionally, there's a further requirement under COSHH for a high standard of control of rosin based solder flux flumes.
As such, you'll need to carry out a thorough risk assessment to identify if there's an asthmagen hazard in your workplace. If identified, you must implement adequate controls to prevent or reduce exposure to fumes.
When deciding on controls, HSE recommends you think about:
- The route into the body. Can the fumes be inhaled or have contact with skin?
- How often do workers solder with rosin-based solder fluxes and for how long?
- The exact methods of the welding or soldering task being carried out.
- Anyone else in the workplace who could be exposed to the fumes e.g. visitors, maintenance workers.
The priority order which HSE sets out is as follows:
- Removing the use of solder fume. If not possible, you must consider alternative methods to soldering e.g. mechanical jointing processes such as crimping and wire wrap or conductive adhesives.
- Another option is substituting rosin-based fluxes. Can your workplace use rosin-free fluxes instead?
- If solder fumes are unavoidable, you must implement measures to reduce exposure, such as good ventilation, appropriate worker posture (keeping your face out of the fumes), temperature controlled soldering irons, etc.
- Ensure as few people as possible are exposed. For example, you could enclose the soldering process area.
- Provide personal protective equipment (PPE) to workers, including safety gloves, eye protection, respiratory protective equipment (RPE) and coveralls if necessary. Double check all the PPE works together!
- Regular health surveillance.
- Ask your employees for their input as no controls can work effectively if they don't have staff backing and aren't used properly.
Safe Welding, Safe People
HSE's inspections should help raise awareness of the risks to respiratory health from exposure to welding fumes. In addition to their inspections, you can also watch HSE's video of welder Phil Hydes, who explains how occupational asthma changed his life.
Can Swift360 Help?
Yes! One of the key ways to keep workers safe is the effective use of RPE. We supply a great range of respiratory products and would love to discuss your requirements with you.
It's time to boost awareness and bring down the numbers of occupational asthma!