Welding masks may protect the eyes and face from flashes and sparks, but they don’t guard against toxic fumes. Welding produces a chemical reaction as heat and flame melt materials together. This reaction produces harmful gases and other fumes that rise into the air. Without proper controls, fumes surround the welder, get inside the mask, and right into his/her breathing space. Your workers could develop cancer, lung damage, or different breathing ailments if overexposed to welding fumes.
What your employees need to know
Make sure your employees know which materials they’re working with and what the health risks are. Each material may have its own permissible exposure limit (PEL) as identified by Cal/OSHA.
Only work in areas with proper ventilation. A local exhaust system pulls fumes away from the welder’s breathing zone. Devices like a fume hood or vacuum nozzle positioned right next to the work that’s being done produce the best results.
If local exhaust systems are not available, general ventilation—natural or forced movement of air—can reduce the exposure to fumes in the work area. Failing these two options, workers must wear respirators.
What your employees need to do
Before firing up the welding torch, clean all surfaces. This helps remove any coatings or substances that could produce additional toxic exposures. Other steps for your employees include:
- Whenever possible, use a local exhaust system as explained above.
- Know how general ventilation works, its limitations, and how to use it correctly.
- Know where to find respirators if local exhaust and general ventilation are not available.
- Workers should position themselves in such a way to keep fumes out of their breathing space. An outdoor worker should stand upwind of the fumes so they move away from him or her. An indoor worker should stand on the opposite side of where the smoke is moving.
At your safety meeting
Discuss and demonstrate how to use your ventilation system. Hands-on training helps your employees become more familiar with the equipment they use, such as the different local exhaust methods. Also make sure they understand how general ventilation works and where to find respirators when needed.
Speaking of respirators, show your workers the type of respirator they need, how to use it, and how to maintain it.
Remind your employees of all the health risks that come with overexposure to welding fumes. Make sure to review the Safety Data Sheets (SDS). These identify the harmful substances your employees work with. You can find the permissible exposure limit (PEL) for each substance, in Cal/OSHA’s Table AC-1.
Proper control measures help remove toxic fumes from the air your workers breathe.
They’re more effective on the job and less at risk of a potentially fatal disease like cancer.