In April 2017, the International Agency for Research on Cancer (IARC) determined that welding fume is considered to be a known carcinogen that can lead to lung cancer in humans. This decision may affect all facilities who employ welders or other personnel conducting hot work, as these personnel may be exposed to welding fumes. Employers of welders should ensure engineering and administrative controls are implemented to reduce employee exposure to welding fumes in the workplace.
Although the findings from the IARC indicate that welding fumes are known to cause cancer, no regulatory changes have yet been made in the United States. Primarily, the Occupational Health and Safety Administration (OSHA) has not established a permissible exposure limit (PEL) for general welding fumes. However, OSHA does have regulations that all facilities must comply with to keep employees safe while welding, and several individual components of welding, typically included within general welding fumes and vapors, such as hexavalent chromium, manganese, and nickel do have established PELs. Because of this, facilities should implement engineering and administrative controls to minimize employee exposure to welding fumes. Examples of controls include:
- Utilizing local exhaust or ventilation systems to reduce fumes and gases generated from welding;
- Having welders position themselves so that they are not downstream of welding fumes;
- Limiting employees’ time spent welding, if possible;
- Ensuring welders are fitted for and properly wear appropriate personal protective equipment (PPE), such as welding helmets and respirators; and
- Implement a Hot Work Safety Program and train employees on the hazards associated with welding and hot work.
If you are unsure of your employees’ exposure levels to welding fumes, indoor air quality monitoring should be conducted for welding personnel, areas where welding and hot work occur, and possibly on employees that work around welding and hot work areas. Results from indoor air quality monitoring can then be compared to OSHA permissible exposure levels to determine if employees are exposed to concentrations of hazardous chemicals at or above the PEL. If you would like more information regarding conducting indoor air quality monitoring or would like assistance with complying with OSHA’s welding and hot work regulations, please contact CTI.