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Welding fume hazards

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Welding processes are classified into two groups: fusion welding, which is heat alone, and pressure welding, which uses heat and pressure. Fusion welding involves three types: electric arc, gas and thermit.

All of these forms of welding produce visible smoke that contains harmful metal fume and gas byproducts, OSHA states. Welding fumes contain a variety of metals, including aluminum, arsenic, beryllium, lead and manganese. Argon, nitrogen, carbon dioxide, carbon monoxide and hydrogen fluoride gases often are produced during welding.

Health issues

Welding fumes can cause serious health problems for workers if inhaled, according to OSHA. Short-term exposure can result in nausea, dizziness, or eye, nose and throat irritation. Prolonged exposure to welding fumes can lead to cancer of the lung, larynx and urinary tract, as well as nervous system and kidney damage. Certain gases, such as helium, carbon dioxide and argon, displace oxygen and can pose suffocation risks, OSHA notes, particularly in enclosed work areas.

OSHA offers tips to help welders reduce their exposure level to welding fumes and gases. Among them:

  • Thoroughly understand the hazards associated with welding.
  • Clean welding surfaces regularly to remove coatings that could potentially result in toxic exposure levels.
  • Stay upwind of welding fumes when working in open or outdoor areas. Be aware, however, that working outdoors or in open work environments doesn’t guarantee safe ventilation.
  • Use local exhaust ventilation systems for indoor welding. Be sure to keep exhaust ports away from other workers.
  • Never weld in a confined space that doesn’t have ventilation.
  • Wear respiratory protection if ventilation and work practices don’t adequately reduce welding fume exposure to safe levels.

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