If you work at or manage any site that carries out metal fabrication work and are responsible for the management of substances hazardous to health at work, you need to be prepared for an inspection by the Health and Safety Executive between January and March 2020, who will be checking for compliance with the law.
HSE Inspectors will be focusing on the control of exposure to welding fume and metalworking fluids. The Control of Substances Hazardous to Health Regulations 2002 (COSHH) requires employers to carry out a suitable and sufficient risk assessment for those exposed to welding fumes and metalwork fluids.
The dangers of welding fume
The HSE provided revised guidance in 2019 to protect workers from the serious health hazards caused by welding fumes. All welding fumes (including mild steel) are now classed as carcinogens. Welding fume can cause respiratory irritation and metal fume fever, as well as increasing susceptibility to pneumonia. It can lead to serious lung diseases including: chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD), emphysema, occupational asthma and cancer. Shielding gases can cause asphyxiation (suffocation from lack of oxygen), usually resulting from accumulation of the gases in confined spaces. Fume and dust from allied processes such as flame and arc cutting can also cause lung disease. Abrasive blasting produces harmful amounts of dust which includes metals and metal oxides.
Control the risk: Welding fume
Good control practice for welding fume includes Local Exhaust Ventilation (LEV), Respiratory Protection Equipment (RPE) and good general ventilation in the work area. Each situation can result in various hazards and good control practice is dependent on the process, eg. the welding consumable, the base metal, surface coatings or contaminants, and where the task is done.
You should always provide/use appropriate personal protective equipment (PPE) and shielding to protect other workers from eye damage. For welding fume exposure management, consider controls in the following order:
Eliminate/avoid or reduce exposure - use alternative joining, cutting or surface preparation methods
Use local exhaust ventilation (LEV) to remove fume at its source – protect the welder and others nearby
Use suitable respiratory protective equipment (RPE) to avoid inhaling fumes – when LEV does not capture all the fume.
Metalworking fluids hazards
If you are machining with metalwork fluids (MWF), you must ensure you are compliant with the Control of Substances Hazardous to Health Regulations 2002. Inhalation of metalworking fluid mist can cause lung diseases, such as occupational asthma and occupational hypersensitivity pneumonitis and skin contact with metalworking fluids can cause dermatitis.
Control the risk: Metalwork fluids
Adequate control of exposure reduces skin contacts and inhalation of MWF, this can be achieved by applying the COSHH principles of good control practice:
Minimise emissions and contact with MWF in the design and planning of the task.
Select control measures that are proportionate to the risk to minimise the escape and spread of MWF mist.
Check and review all control measures to ensure they are continuously effective to minimise exposure to MWF exposure e.g. regular thorough test and examinations of Local Exhaust Ventilation (LEV).
If exposure to MWF (mist or skin contact) cannot be adequately controlled, ensure Personal Protective Equipment (PPE) including Respiratory Protective Equipment (RPE) are available.
Inform and train all employees about the hazards and risks to health, and the use of control measures required to minimise exposure to MWF.
Alcumus Sypol can help you manage hazardous substances to health at work with our COSHH Management Software solution. Visit our Sypol webpages to find out more or email us to request a demo to learn how you could benefit.