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Hazards of Weld Smoke and Fumes in the Workplace

Overexposure to weld smoke and fumes can cause a wide range of health problems

Metal dust particles in welding fumes are a leading cause of eye irritation in factories. Metal dust can also cause upper respiratory irritation with black material being coughed and sneezed from workers who are exposed to welding fumes. Metal dust particles are also known to cause headaches.

Manganese, the primary metal in welding wire, can cause workers to feel exhausted, apathetic and weak. It is also the primary cause of headaches. Chronic overexposure to such fumes leads to a condition known as “manganism” which is characterized by neurological and neurobehavioral health problems. The permissible exposure limit (PEL) for manganese is 5.0 milligrams per cubic meter. Manganese is the trigger for EPA Rule 6x.

Hexavalent Chromium or CR(VI) is a carcinogenic substance produced during welding or other types of “hot work” on stainless steel and other metals that contain or are coated with chromium. Hex chrome overexposure can result in short term upper respiratory system, and lung cancer. Other major health effects include damage to the upper respiratory system, and allergic and irritant contact dermatitis. Respiratory tract problems can include inhalation damage to mucous membranes, perforation of septum tissue between the nostrils of the nose , and damage to the lungs. In addition there may be injury to the eyes, skin, liver and kidneys. Once in the body, hex chrome typically targets some of the body’s organs. A worker exposed to hex chrome may also experience symptoms such as sinus irritation, nosebleeds, stomach and nose ulcers, skin rash and chest tightness, wheezing and shortness of breath. OSHA Permissible Exposure Levels: OSHA has defined two levels of exposure for hexavalent chromium:

The current OSHA PEL for hex chrome was reduced in 2006 from 52 ug/m3 to 5.0 ug/m3 (micrograms per cubic meter) as an 8 hour TWA.

The second level is called Action Level (AL) at 2.5 ug/m3. This is where employers are required to take specific actions, and failure to take these actions may result in penalties.

It is imperative to follow OSHA exposure guidelines for these and other metals, particularly where workers are at risk for long term health effects.

Zinc Oxide is a pollutant generated by hot work on galvanized steel. Exposure can result in a condition known as “metal fume fever”, a short term illnesss in which sever flu-like symptoms occur after a break from work. Due to the delayed reaction, it is often confused with regular influenza and in many cases goes undiagnosed. The current PEL is 5.0 milligrams per cubic meter TWA.

Work Area Prior to Source Capture of Weld Smoke and Fumes

Work Area After Source Capture of Weld Smoke and Fumes