Welding fume is the by-product of welding and hot metal cutting and can contain a mixture of toxic gases and particles. Welding fume is measured as a total particulate material with laboratory analysis being used to further detect the individual metals within the welding fume. The metal composition of welding fume is important as the composition of welding fume varies with each type of operation. Metals commonly found within welding fume differ in Workplace Exposure Standards and toxicity. The concentration and components of welding fume is determined using workplace monitoring and is useful in determining what course of action is required
The health effects of welding fume can range from short term health effects such conditions with asthma or bronchitis like symptoms, through to chronic long term conditions such as cancers and chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD).
Exposure to Welding fume can be minimise within the workplace by using different welding materials, Localised Exhaust Ventilation (LEV) and by wearing appropriate respiratory protection equipment (RPE). LEV systems need to be positioned in order to extract fume away from staff and also allow maneuverability. LEV systems also need to tested to determine that the airflow is sufficient to draw fume away without creating eddies of fume which may remain in the workers breathing zone. One way to test this is with the use of smoke tubes which give an instant visual illustration of the efficiency of the LEV systems.
Respiratory protection equipment should be a last course of action to minimise worker exposure to welding fume. Respiratory protection may include disposable dust masks, half face masks with particulate filters or Powered Air Purifying Respirators (PAPR). Respiratory protection equipment needs to fit for purpose and in the case of half face masks, need to be properly fit tested with an appropriate filter change schedule and annual fit testing.
Click here for the WorkSafe NZ welding and local exhaust ventilation fact sheet for more information regarding welding fume