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Controlling Hazardous Fume and Gases during Welding

Welding is a process that joins materials together by melting a metal workpiece along with a filler metal to form a strong joint. However, welding also produces visible smoke that contains harmful metal fumes and gas by-products, which can pose serious health risks to welders and co-workers. This article will discuss the types and sources of welding fumes and gases, the health effects of exposure, and the best practices to control and minimize pollution.

I. Types and Sources of Welding Fume and Gases

Welding fume is a complex mixture of metals, metallic oxides, silicates, and fluorides that are formed when a metal is heated above its boiling point and its vapors condense into very fine particles. The composition of the welding fume depends on several factors, such as the type of welding process, the base metal and filler metals used, the welding rod composition, the coatings and residues on the metal being welded, and the air movement and ventilation in the work area.

Welding gases are gases used or produced during welding and cutting processes, such as shielding gases, process gases, or gases from the decomposition of fluxes or the interaction of ultraviolet light or high temperatures with gases or vapors in the air. Some examples of welding gases are:

  • Shielding gases: argon, helium, nitrogen, carbon dioxide

  • Process gases: nitric oxide, nitrogen dioxide, carbon monoxide, ozone, phosgene, hydrogen fluoride, carbon dioxide

  • Gases from fluxes: fluorides, chlorides, carbon monoxide, carbon dioxide, sulphur dioxide, hydrogen sulphide, nitrogen oxides

II. Health Effects of Welding Fume and Gases

Exposure to welding fumes and gases can cause various acute and chronic health effects, depending on the type, concentration, and duration of exposure. Some of the common health effects are:

  • Eye, nose, and throat irritation, dizziness, nausea, headache, fatigue

  • Metal fume fever, is a flu-like illness with symptoms such as fever, chills, muscle ache, chest tightness, cough, and shortness of breath

  • Lung damage, such as inflammation, fibrosis, or cancer

  • Asthma, bronchitis, emphysema, or pneumonia

  • Skin irritation, dermatitis, or skin cancer

  • Nervous system damage, such as impaired coordination, memory loss, or behavioral changes

  • Kidney damage, such as reduced function or kidney stones

  • Stomach ulcers, liver damage, or blood disorders

  • Reproductive effects, such as reduced fertility, miscarriage, or birth defects

Some metals and gases in welding fumes and gases are particularly hazardous, such as:

  • Beryllium, which can cause chronic beryllium disease, a serious lung condition that can be fatal

  • Cadmium, which can cause kidney damage, lung cancer, or death

  • Chromium, which can cause lung cancer, especially in the hexavalent form

  • Lead, which can cause nervous system damage, anemia, or kidney damage

  • Manganese, which can cause neurological disorders, such as Parkinson’s disease

  • Nickel, which can cause lung cancer, asthma, or allergic reactions

  • Ozone, which can cause lung irritation, inflammation, or damage

  • Phosgene, which can cause pulmonary oedema, a life-threatening condition where fluid accumulates in the lungs

III. Best Practices to Control and Minimize Welding Fume and Gases

The best way to protect workers from welding fumes and gases is to eliminate or reduce the source of pollution, using the following hierarchy of controls:

  • Elimination: Use alternative methods of joining materials, such as mechanical fastening, adhesive bonding, or soldering, whenever possible

  • Substitution: Use less hazardous materials, such as low-fume electrodes, fluxes, or coatings, whenever possible

  • Engineering: Use ventilation systems, such as local exhaust ventilation or general dilution ventilation, to capture and remove welding fume and gases from the work area

  • Administrative: Implement work practices and policies, such as proper positioning, good housekeeping, regular maintenance, and worker training, to reduce exposure to welding fumes and gases

  • Personal protective equipment: Use appropriate respiratory protection, such as disposable respirators, half-face respirators, or supplied-air respirators, to filter or supply clean air to the worker

It is important to follow the manufacturer’s instructions, safety data sheets (SDSs), and hazard control measures to minimize the risks and hazards of welding fumes and gases. Use substitute materials such as water-based cleaners or high flash point solvents. Workers should also undergo regular health surveillance and monitoring to detect any signs of adverse effects from welding fumes and gases. By following these best practices, workers can ensure a safe and healthy welding environment.

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