The role of exposure standards in welding fume control
The exposure standards in Australia and New Zealand ‘do not identify a dividing line between a healthy or unhealthy working environment’1. They simply establish a legal maximum upper limit.
‘Therefore, exposure standards should not be considered as representing an acceptable level of exposure to workers’1.
Take for example, a welder operating within the workplace exposure standards for general welding fume (5 mg/m3). If the welder is wearing no respiratory Personal Protective Equipment (PPE), they could inhale up to 11 grams of a carcinogenic substance (welding fume) every year*.
Moreover, an Australian or New Zealand welder operating under the legal workplace exposure limits for welding fume in Australia is exposed to 4 times the level of a known carcinogen than that of a German welder working under the TGRS 528 (1.25 mg/m3) exposure limits in Germany.
Ensuring workers are suitably protected
The world has shifted to more of a health and safety focus—the result of court cases and research. Australian and New Zealand companies are now completely changing their stance on welding fume and welders’ PPE.
The 2017 reclassification of welding fume as carcinogenic prompted many to rethink and challenge what was historically considered ‘normal’. The 2019 statistical analysis concluding that welders have a ‘43% increased risk of lung cancer’2 regardless of the type of steel welded, the welding process or time-period is of serious public health relevance.
Being aware of information like this should act as the trigger at your workplace to introduce PPE with higher protection factors to give exposed workers the protection they deserve.
Welding fume is serious. Action is required.
Ready to take action against welding fume? For a comprehensive breakdown and in-depth examples of how suitable controls can be properly implemented, you can download the AWS Practical Guide to Welding Fume Control below.
* Based on the typical respiratory rate of 20 litres of air per minute or 2,300 m3 of air per year
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