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How to Reduce Exposure to Welding Fumes

The Basics of Welding Fume Dangers

The welding process is classified into two groups: fusion welding, which is the process of using heat to join or fuse two or more materials, and pressure welding, which is applying heat and pressure to weld items together. Both processes produce smoke that contains harmful materials. To eliminate risk to your employees, we’ve highlighted the dangers of welding fumes and how your employees can protect themselves from these dangers.

Why Welding Fumes Are Dangerous to Employees

Welding fumes can cause serious health problems for workers if inhaled, according to OSHA. Short-term exposure can result in nausea, dizziness, or eye, nose, and throat irritation. Prolonged exposure to welding fumes can lead to cancer of the lung, larynx, and urinary tract, as well as the nervous system and kidney damage.

How Do Welders Protect Themselves from These Dangers?

To protect employees from the dangers of welding fumes, welders need to protect themselves at all costs or consider alternative options to finish the job. Welders should understand the hazards of the materials they are working with and wear proper equipment to reduce risk.

To further reduce risk, welding surfaces should be cleaned of any coating that could potentially create toxic exposure, such as solvent residue and paint. Additionally, workers should position themselves to avoid breathing welding fume and gases. For example, workers should stay upwind when welding in open or outdoor environments.

General ventilation, the natural or forced movement of fresh air, can reduce fume and gas levels in the work area. Welding outdoors or in open workspaces does not guarantee adequate ventilation. In work areas without ventilation and exhaust systems, welders should use natural drafts along with proper positioning to keep fume and gases away from themselves and other workers.

Local exhaust ventilation systems can be used to remove fume and gases from the welder’s breathing zone. Keep fume hoods, fume extractor guns, and vacuum nozzles close to the plume source to remove the maximum amount of fume and gases. Portable or flexible exhaust systems can be positioned so that fume and gases are drawn away from the welder. Keep exhaust ports away from other workers.

Employees should consider substituting a lower fume-generating or less toxic welding type or consumable and not weld in confined spaces without ventilation. Finally, Respiratory protection may be required if work practices and ventilation do not reduce exposure to safe levels.

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