Welding – New Requirements from the HSE
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Today we ask the question what are the new requirements and what should you look out for?
Welding, as we know it today, has been around since the 19th Century, with discovery of acetylene by Edmund Davy and the development of the continuous electric arc by Humphry Davy (no relation!). Since then, welding metals has become commonplace in numerous industries and safety precautions have had to be introduced to protect the people carrying out this work. The most obvious hazards are the extremes of temperature that are involved in welding and the intense light given off during the process, but lesser known are the potential hazards presented by the fumes given off.
The nature of welding means that fumes from the molten metals, welding rods and flux will become airborne and potentially be breathed in by the welders. In the short term, exposure causes irritation to the eyes, nose and throat and can cause nausea or dizziness. Longer term exposure can lead to cancer of the lung, larynx, kidneys and nervous system.
Over the years, scientific studies have been carried out and the conclusions are that any exposure to welding fume can cause lung cancer.
The consequence of this is that the Health and Safety Executive are changing their enforcement expectations regarding control of welding fumes.
That means that engineering controls need to be in place, such as local ventilation systems, room ventilation etc. and any residual fume is also controlled using respiratory protective equipment (RPE). This applies to welding outdoors as well as inside!
Carrying out welding in a “well-ventilated area” is no longer acceptable, so it will be interesting to see how the requirements are met by industries such as steel fabrication, construction and shipbuilding.
One other issue to consider is that the HSE have not set a workplace exposure limit (WEL), so there is no safe level and businesses will have to find ways to eliminate exposure.
Welding has always been a hazardous activity and it would appear to be even more so now!