With new evidence suggesting that exposure to steel welding fume can cause lung cancer, the Health and Safety Executive (HSE) has issued an alert about changes in enforcement expectations in the UK.
The International Agency for Research on Cancer has found that exposure to all welding fume, including mild steel welding fume, can cause lung cancer. It also found there is limited evidence linked to kidney cancer, and that general ventilation in the workspace does not achieve the necessary control.
The Workplace Health Expert Committee has endorsed the reclassification of mild steel welding fume as a human carcinogen.
HSE has subsequently changed its enforcement expectations in relation to the control of exposure of welding fume, including that from mild steel welding. These changes will take place with immediate effect across the UK.
It recommends that all businesses undertaking welding activities should ensure effective engineering controls are provided and correctly used to control fume arising from those welding activities.
The HSE safety alert states that where engineering controls are not adequate to control all fume exposure, adequate and suitable respiratory protective equipment (RPE) is also required to control risk from the residual fume.
It recommends that the following steps be taken:
- Make sure exposure to any welding fume released is adequately controlled using engineering controls (typically local exhaust ventilation).
- Make sure suitable controls are provided for all welding activities, irrelevant of duration. This includes welding outdoors.
- Where engineering controls alone cannot control exposure, then adequate and suitable RPE should be provided to control risk from any residual fume.
- Make sure all engineering controls are correctly used, suitably maintained and are subject to thorough examination and test where required.
- Make sure any RPE is subject to an RPE program. An RPE program encapsulates all the elements of RPE use you need to ensure that your RPE is effective in protecting the wearer.
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