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Heightened cancer risk from welding fume exposure prompts HSE to tighten controls

New scientific evidence from the International Agency for Research on Cancer (IARC), which has found that exposure to even mild steel welding fume can cause lung cancer and possibly kidney cancer, has prompted the UK Health and Safety Executive (HSE) to raise its control standards. 

Heightened cancer risk from welding fume exposure prompts HSE to tighten controls
Image credit: kwanisik

The Workplace Health Expert Committee (WHEC), which was set up to provide the HSE with independent, authoritative and impartial expertise on workplace health, has endorsed the reclassification of mild steel welding fume as a human carcinogen and prompted the regulator to issue a safety alert STSU1 – 2019, which ramps up the HSE’s enforcement expectations (bit.ly/2RWCkeV).

The HSE has informed employers that regardless of duration, it will no longer accept any welding undertaken without any suitable exposure control measures in place because there is no known level of safe exposure. The stricter enforcement measures come after the IARC evidence showed that general ventilation does not achieve the necessary control.

Control of the cancer risk will require suitable engineering controls for all welding activities that take place indoors, which includes local exhaust ventilation (LEV). The HSE has also called on employers to use extraction as this will also control exposure to manganese, which is present in mild steel welding fume and can cause neurological effects.

The regulator has also warned employers that where LEV alone does not adequately control exposure, they should supplement it with adequate and suitable respiratory protective equipment (RPE) to protect employees from the residual fume.

Appropriate RPE should be provided for welding outdoors, the HSE adds, and welders should be suitably instructed and trained in the use of these controls.

Businesses have been told that risk assessments should reflect the change in the HSE’s expected control measures.


Nic Warburton is acting editor, IOSH Magazine

 Nick Warburton is acting editor of IOSH Magazine. He is a former editor of SHP and has also worked on Local Authority Waste and Recycling and Environmental Health Practitioner


  • By implication I guess t

    Permalink Submitted by John Valavanis on 12 February 2019 - 01:25 pm

    By implication I guess this also imposes a requirement on Designers under CDM to eliminate or mitigate the risk of exposure to welding fume when designing and/or specifying shop fabricated and structural steel components, etc., and to ensure that the design facilitates adoption of control measures.

  • As of my experience I ha

    Permalink Submitted by Syed on 13 February 2019 - 01:57 am

    As of my experience I had always told my workers involved in HOT WORK to use their Masks to avoid inhalation of these fumes...Because these fumes are generates from welding rods etc which is dangerous for health...and Now after this I had a legal example too...Thanks

  • So is this just mild ste

    Permalink Submitted by DPRG on 4 April 2019 - 03:55 pm

    So is this just mild steel or all welding activities. I'm unclear.


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