Breathe Easy with Welding Fumes
When the HSE released a bulletin in February 2019 regarding fumes from welding, it put a question mark over the level of control that would need to be in place for the future. We fielded a lot of questions from operators for whom welding was, at best, an occasional process and there was some confusion over the advice that different parties were providing. General ventilation appeared to be out and Extraction was in, but no one knew for sure.
Fast forward to November 2019 and the HSE released COSHH Essentials advice sheet WL3: Welding Fume Control. This, in a very tidy little table, outlines the type of welding to be undertaken, its frequency and duration and the advised control measures to be put in place. Have a look for this on the HSE website https://www.hse.gov.uk/coshh/essentials/direct-advice/welding.htm
The good news for TIG and MIG operators who only weld occasionally is that there should be no need for the purchasing of expensive extraction equipment, as general ventilation remains an adequate control measure, though we do advise that the individual carrying out the welding also wear Respiratory Protective Equipment (RPE) as well. We should note that occasional use is considered as a duration of less than 1 hour at any given time and a frequency of less than once a day.
Other types of welding, or welding for longer periods or of greater frequency, however, does require the removal of fumes through a suitable means of extraction and we have also fielded a number of questions on what type of extraction this should be. Here we defer to the manufacturers and advise businesses to contact a supplier of extraction equipment to discuss your individual circumstances as these are important in determining the best solution for you. We also advise that all individuals carrying out the task wear suitable RPE in addition to the extraction as working in close proximity to the source of the fumes may also lead to exposure, especially when welding parts difficult to access and where extraction may at times be less effective.
Selecting suitable RPE is important, ensuring it fits properly and has the correct filters and again, we advise contacting suppliers to discuss your needs and ask about face fitting services for your employees should you choose close fitting RPE. RPE is only going to be effective if its filters and fit keep the fumes out. As a minimum, an Assigned Protection Factor (APF) of 20 should be sort, but as always, consult with your supplier and discuss the type of materials being welded as they may require a higher APF.
Hopefully this has provided a little more clarification of what the HSE are looking for in regards to the control of welding fumes. There are varying factors and no one solution will fit all, but with the table published in WL3 and guidance from your suppliers, you should have no problem attaining compliance moving in to 2020.
Stephen Hicks, TechIOSH
KVF Senior H&S Advisor