Exposure standards are still just the beginning
The original 2021 Practical Guide to Welding Fume Control outlined how welding fume exposure standards in Australia and New Zealand ‘do not identify a dividing line between a healthy or unhealthy working environment’1, but simply establish a legal maximum upper limit.
To illustrate this, the guide takes the example of a welder operating within the Workplace Exposure Limit (WEL) for ‘welding fume not otherwise classified’ (5 mg/m3, TWA) and demonstrates how that welder could inhale up to 11 grams of carcinogenic fume every year if unprotected.
The NEW 2022 Practical Guide to Welding Fume Control now takes this analysis a step further.
This updated version shows how the WEL for welding fume cannot be viewed as the be-all and end-all, given that all the most common chemicals found within welding fume have their own respective exposure limits. So in addition to the WEL for ‘welding fume not otherwise classified’, workplaces should also ensure that none of these other WEL’s are exceeded.
To put this in perspective, the below table outlines both the exposure limits (as specified by Safe Work Australia) and potential health effects associated with the most common chemicals workers may be exposed to when welding:
|Fume Type/ Chemical||Source||Health Effect||TWA (mg/m³)|
Aluminium component of some alloys, e.g., nickel chromium, copper, steel, magnesium, brass and filler materials.
|Beryllium||Hardening agent found in
copper, magnesium, aluminium
alloys and electrical contacts.
|"Metal Fume Fever." A carcinogen. Other chronic effects include damage to the respiratory tract.||0.002|
|Cadmium||Stainless steel containing
cadmium or plated materials, zinc alloy.
|Irritation of respiratory system, sore and dry throat, chest pain and breathing difficulty. Chronic effects include kidney damage and emphysema. Suspected
|Chromium||Most stainless steel and high-alloy materials, welding rods. Also used as plating material.||Increased risk of lung cancer. Some individuals may develop skin irritation. Some forms are carcinogens (hexavalent chromium).||0.5 or 0.05 (Depending on chemical form)|
|Copper||Alloys such as nickel-copper,
brass, bronze. Also some welding
|Acute effects include
irritation of the eyes, nose and throat, nausea and "Metal Fume Fever".
|Iron Oxides||The major contaminant in all iron or steel welding processes.||Siderosis - a benign form of lung disease caused by particles deposited in the lungs. Acute
symptoms include irritation of the nose and lungs. Tends to clear up when exposure stops.
|Lead||Solder, brass and bronze alloys,
primer/coating on steels.
|Chronic effects to nervous system, kidneys, digestive
system and mental capacity. Can cause lead poisoning. Ototoxic and therefore risk of
|Manganese||Most welding processes,
especially high tensile steels.
|"Metal Fume Fever." Chronic effects may include central
nervous system problems. Ototoxic and therefore risk of hearing loss.
|Zinc Oxides||Galvanized and painted metal.||Metal Fume Fever.||5|
A changing stance on welding fume
Australian and New Zealand companies are now completely changing their stance on welding fume and welders’ PPE. This began with the 2017 reclassification of welding fume as carcinogenic, which prompted many to rethink and challenge what they had previously considered as ‘normal.’
Later studies then concluded welders have a ‘43% increased risk of lung cancer’ regardless of the type of steel they weld, the welding process they use and the length of time they are welding for.2
Such statistics should act as a catalyst for workplaces to introduce suitable PPE with higher protection factors and provide their workers with the protection they deserve.
1 Guidance on the interpretation of workplace exposure standards for airborne contaminants, Safe Work Australia, April 2013
2 2019 Honaryar MK, Lunn RM, Luce D, et al. Occup Environ Med