Up in Smoke? Changes to Welding Fume Control Measures

Following the International Agency for Research on Cancer recent findings on mild steel welding fumes, a major shakeup has occurred globally for welding and fabrication shops, but what does this mean for the UK?

In response to the findings the HSE have issued a bulletin (STSU1-2019) where mild steel welding fumes are now classed as a carcinogen. There are links to lung cancers and kidney cancers from exposure and in other cases the welding fume has caused neurological damage with effects similar to Parkinson’s disease. Because of the research’s findings, the HSE will be expecting to see Engineering Controls such as Local Exhaust Ventilation or portable Fume Extraction being employed on each welding unit. Gone are the days of the accepted controls of opening the big doors to get the air circulating and preventing excessive build up of fume.

As of this bulletin, the HSE will now expect to see the hierarchy of controls being effectively applied. Air-fed Respiratory Protective Equipment (RPE) is to be employed after localised exhaust ventilation or extraction can no longer effectively protect employees even from residual welding fume.

Even outside welding to prevent welding fume from being contained in a localised atmosphere, will require employers to utilise Air-fed RPE.  Risk Assessments will need to be altered to reflect the changes being made and organisations conducting welding activities should fully anticipate a visit from the HSE and to see that the bulletin guidance has been implemented or risk intervention from enforcing bodies.

For clarity, employers should try to:

  • Make sure exposure to any welding fumes released is adequately controlled using engineering controls – typically Local Exhaust Ventilation (LEV)
  • Make sure suitable controls are provided for all welding activities, irrelevant of duration. This includes welding outdoors.
  • Where engineering controls alone cannot control exposure, then adequate and suitable RPE should be provided to control risk from any residual fume.
  • Make sure all engineering controls are correctly used, suitably maintained and are subject to thorough examination and test where required.
  • Make sure any Respiratory Protective Equipment is subject to an RPE programme that encapsulates all the elements of RPE use needed to ensure that the equipment worn is effective in protecting the wearer.

For more information or guidance, contact your Health & Safety Representative.


Daniel Wilkinson

(HSQE Manager)