Welding woes

24 April 2008

At the 2006 SC&RA Annual Conference the SC&RA Safety Education Committee created a Welding Fume Taskforce. Welding fume litigation, including claims linking manganese to Parkinson's disease, is a concern of SC&RA and the entire industry.

The taskforce has investigate dwelding fume health, OSHA, and legal issues. The welding fume litigation linked to manganese can be followed at two web sites: the plaintiff's site is www.welding-rod-litigation.com the defendants'site is www.weldinginfonetwork.com. These cases are significant and may have an impact on insurance policy, coverage and premiums. To obtain updated insurance and welding fume litigation information contact Kevin Cunningham or Tim Hillegonds at NBIS Construction and Transport Underwriters.

Welding fumes are toxic metalfumes produced during welding operations. Many fumes are produced depending on the composition of the metal, coatings, residue, solvents, gases, welding rod and welding method. Toxic metals produced during welding operations include aluminum, beryllium, cadmium oxides, chromium, copper, fluorides, iron oxides, lead, manganese, molybdenum, nickel, vanadium and zinc. Toxic gases produced are ozone, carbonmonoxide, hydrogen fluoride, carbon dioxide, phosgene, phoshine and oxides of nitrogen.

Welding fumes and gases enter the body through inhalation into the lungs. Short-term (acute)effects include metal fume fever, which include flu-like symptoms generally lasting one day. Other effects include coughing; irritation of the eyes, nose, and chest; shortness of breath, bronchitis, fluid in the lungs (edema) inflammation of the lungs(pneumonitis) and loss of appetite. Long term (chronic) effects are cancer of the lungs, larynx, urinary tract, kidney damage, gastritis, skin diseases, heart disease, cancer and Parkinson's disease. Smoking increases the risk of short and long term health effects related to fumes.

Federal OSHA Standard 1926 and 1910 cover safety requirements for welding operations. There are also specific limits for exposure to metals, gases, and total fumes during welding operations. Employers must take the necessary steps to protect their employees and keep the exposures to fumes below the permissible exposure limits, threshold limit values, and time-weighted averages.

A hazard assessment of your welding shop or welders' work area should be conducted prior to performing welding or cutting operations. Warning signs identifying potential hazards must be posted. A fire protection plan, combustible materials, electrical hazards, personal protective equipment requirements, and an emergency plan, need to be included in your hazard assessment.

It is advisable to conduct employee training of general and specific hazards. The training should cover specific substance exposures, personal protective equipment, safe use of the equipment, safe work practices, engineering controls, air monitoring results, medical evaluations and surveillance programs. Specific training and medical surveillance programs are required for some exposures including, but not limited to, lead, magnesium, arsenic, nickel, chromium, cadmium and vanadium. Also cover the steps each worker must understand in the event of an emergency.

Adequate ventilation is the key to providing engineering controls limiting employee exposure to the welding plume, fumes and gases. One of the other key ways to limiting exposure is how welders protect themselves from the exposure (welding plume). Air monitoring data is the best practice to measure the results of these exposures. A Certified Industrial Hygienist (CIH) or qualified person is capable of evaluating the welding rod, process, metals, coatings and ventilation systems to conduct the proper air monitoring and sampling program. This will give your company the historical data necessary to make engineering decisions in controlling the welding work area. Your company may decide to change or substitute materials, methods, local or general exhaust ventilation, and or work scheduling.

If feasible engineering and work practice controls are not possible, respirators may be used to limit exposure. Every company should have a written respiratory protection program which includes medical evaluations; medical surveillance; proper selection; fit testing procedures; employee training in general and specific hazards and exposures; air monitoring results; limits of each respirator; donning, cleaning and storage of respirators; periodic inspections and maintenance; hygiene practices; and requirements to use only NIOSH (National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health) approved respiratory protection.


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