SPATA: Welding Fume and Exposure Limits

Welding Safety News

SPATA: Welding Fume and Exposure Limits

What is Welding Fume?

Welding fume consists of a mixture of particles, vapours and gases that are released into the air surrounding an active welding arc operation. The exact content of this mixture will vary depending on the type of welding, the parent metals or coatings involved, the welding rods used, and any support gases required.

The welding process releases a cocktail of heated fine metal particles, organic vapours, ozone, and gases that rise into the breathing zone of the welder and others close by. This mixture can then be breathed into the lungs, leaving you vulnerable to severe long and short term health effects including multiple types of cancer.

However, it’s important to understand that while the risk is serious, keeping yourself safe can be straightforward. As such, the more aware you are of the dangers posed by welding fume exposure, the better prepared you will be to seek suitable respiratory protection.

To that end, the below video (courtesy of the Speedglas Powered Air Training Academy), sees AWS Occupational Hygienist Terry Gorman break down the current state of play regarding welding fume:



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What are the Exposure Limits for Welding Fume?

The first thing to note is there is no such thing as an “acceptable” level of welding fume exposure. 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.

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.

The world has shifted to more of a health and safety focus—the result of court cases and research. As a result, this information should act as a trigger across workplaces to introduce PPE with higher protection factors and give exposed workers the protection they deserve.

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* 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

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