The benefits of complying with new welding fume safety standards

Techware Pty Ltd

By Brandon Colledge — PPE Product Specialist — Techware
Monday, 06 May, 2024

The benefits of complying with new welding fume safety standards

The International Agency for the Research on Cancer (IARC) and Cancer Council Australia classify welding fumes as Group 1 carcinogens, indicating their potential to cause cancer in humans. Welding fumes, comprised of metallic oxides, silicates and fluorides, originate from the materials and processes involved in welding, including base materials, coatings and the reactions initiated by the welding’s intense heat and ultraviolet light. Exposure to welding fumes can result in severe health implications, such as acute and chronic respiratory diseases, lung cancer, heart disease and neurological issues.

In January 2024, Work Health and Safety Ministers implemented an immediate reduction to the workplace exposure standard (WES) for welding fumes (not otherwise classified) to be reduced from an 8-hour time weighted average (TWA) of 5 mg/m3 to 1 mg/m3.

These standards are essential to lower exposure limits, enhance the effectiveness of ventilation and extraction systems, and the personal protective equipment (PPE) requirements.

Ensuring compliance with these new regulations is vital for protecting workers from both immediate and long-term health hazards. Central to this compliance is the employment of appropriate PPE, particularly advancements in respiratory protection. The updated safety standards emphasise the need for PPE that offers superior filtration and protection, to safeguard worker health in the face of these occupational hazards. Despite being considered the last resort in the hierarchy of safety controls, PPE remains an essential line of defence.

A key development in respiratory protection technology is the next generation of powered air purifying respirator (PAPR). PAPRs represent a significant step forward in worker safety, featuring advanced filtration systems that capture a broad spectrum of hazardous particulates. Unlike traditional respirators, PAPRs use a powered system to supply a continuous flow of filtered air, which eliminates the user’s breathing resistance associated with non-powered traditional respirators and increases comfort for extended periods and welder acceptance. This technology is particularly relevant in today’s workplace, accommodating the resurgence of beards and facial hair among Australian workers, which poses additional challenges in selecting effective respiratory protection.

As Australian welding safety regulations become more stringent, the importance of adopting PPE solutions that meet these new standards cannot be overstated — and an innovative approach is required to comply with these regulations. Workplaces should therefore look to deploy Australian Standards certified PAPR units that are engineered to meet the demands of modern safety standards. Features such as advanced welding lenses for improved vision, quick-release helmets for ease of use, padded harnesses for comfort and extended battery life for continuous protection are key to the comprehensive approach to safety that these new standards encourage.

The move towards improved safety regulations and the adoption of advanced protective equipment like PAPRs marks a pivotal shift towards ensuring safer working conditions for welders. It reflects a broader commitment to worker health and safety, recognising the need for stringent protective measures to combat the significant risks posed by welding fumes.

In conclusion, the evolution of welding safety standards, driven by an enhanced understanding of the health risks associated with welding fumes, requires a robust response from the industry. The introduction of advanced safety regulations in Australia serves as a model for protecting workers from the hazardous effects of welding fumes. Compliance with these regulations, particularly through the adoption of advanced PPE technologies like PAPRs, is essential for ensuring the health and safety of welders, underscoring the industry’s commitment to fostering a safer and healthier work environment.

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