3M Speedglas recently released a 2020 Welding Fume Update, you can read this update here. Alternatively, you can read our summary of the article below:
In 2019, a study on individuals’ exposure to welding fumes and the associated risk of lung cancer was published, with chilling results. The research established several concerning truths which link welding fumes and lung cancer, including the fact that:
- Exposure to welding fume increases the risk of lung cancer.
- Welders present, on average, a 43% increased risk of lung cancer when compared with those who have never welded or been exposed to welding fume.
- This increased risk of lung cancer is regardless of the type of steel welded, the welding process and independent of exposure to smoking.
- Increased risks persist regardless of time period or occupational setting.
- The risk increases with years of employment as a welder.
The danger associated with welding fumes was pre-established when the International Agency for Research on Cancer (IARC) reclassified welding fumes as ‘carcinogenic to humans’ in 2017.
As an employer the responsibility to ensure welders, as far as reasonably practical, are not exposed to health and safety risks while performing their job is of the utmost importance. This protection can be ensured by providing workers with personal protective equipment (PPE), such as welding powered air purifying respirators (PAPR), as well as providing them with appropriate information, training and instruction in the proper use of that PPE.
As a welder it is important to remember that, while the risk is real, keeping yourself safe is simple. So, what sort of PPE should you use to keep yourself safe when welding?
In the Cancer Council’s 2017 Occupational Cancer Risk Series on Welding they advised that welders should ‘wear either air supplied or air purifying respiratory protection’ and use ‘a full face welding helmet, with a UV filtered lens’ as well as suitable clothing, welding gloves and welding boots.
Powered Air Purifying Respirators have a RMPF (Required Minimum Protection Factor) of 50, meaning that they supply breathing air a minimum of 50 times cleaner than if breathing unprotected. Supplied air respirators provide the welder with a RMPF of 100+. To put this into perspective, disposable and reusable half-face style respirators have a RMPF of 10.
The chart below gives a basic guideline to the type of respiratory protection that could be worn based on welding material, process and ventilation.
Thankfully, as a result of these studies, the welding industry has placed a greater emphasis on respiratory protection with a large number of Australian and New Zealand companies completely changing their stance on welders’ PPE. Evidentally, the 2017 reclassification of welding fume as carcinogenic has prompted many to rethink and challenge what was historically considered ‘normal’.
3M Speedglas. (2019). 2020 welding fume update: The current state of play. Retrieved from https://gallery.mailchimp.com/19f384a12fe8865786b179ebf/files/7a22e862-2dd7-4fb2-b824-03e826ba113f/2019_11_Welding_Fume_Update.01.pdf?utm_source=AWS%3A+Distributor+Contacts&utm_campaign=12cb9cd502-EMAIL_CAMPAIGN_2018_03_21_COPY_01&utm_medium=email&utm_term=0_b5f229e0d2-12cb9cd502-126517633&goal=0_b5f229e0d2-12cb9cd502-126517633&mc_cid=12cb9cd502&mc_eid=e6d68ee4ca
Cancer Council. (2019). Welding. Retrieved from https://www.cancer.org.au/preventing-cancer/workplace-cancer/welding.html