Protecting Welders From Lead Exposure Starts With Fume Extraction

Welding fumes could produce lead exposure, which could cause harmful health effects.

Welding fumes could produce lead exposure, which could cause harmful health effects.

Welders are vulnerable to a variety of hazardous chemicals while on the job, such as arsenic and hexavalent chromium. One of the most common chemicals is lead, which could have debilitating health effects, if employers do not take the necessary precautions to protect their workers’ health.

Workers are at risk for coming into contact with lead oxide fumes if they are performing activities related to either welding or cutting lead-bearing alloys or metals that may be coated in lead-based paint, according to the American Society of Safety Engineers (ASSE). Employers who are negligent about safeguarding their workers from lead exposure are likely to be fined by the U.S. Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA).

In 2002, a New York-based manufacturer was fined over $100,000 by OSHA for serious violations, EHS Today reported. The manufacturer of solder wire from lead-based alloys failed to protect its workers from high levels of lead exposure as well as did not provide staff with protective clothing and equipment while they were in contact with hazardous chemicals.

OSHA said reducing lead exposure is one of the top priorities for the agency as this type of exposure is one of the most common reported in industries and workplaces. Lead overexposure can cause temporary and chronic health effects. If workers inhale fumes during welding, it could cause lead poisoning. Employees exhibiting symptoms of this condition could report loss of appetite, nausea or abdominal cramps. Long term impact of lead exposure might present itself as damage to the brain, central nervous system and other organ systems.

Prevention is key to reduce lead exposure
Installing mobile welding fume extraction systems is an effective control method to prevent employees from inhaling hazardous substances. These tools for fume extraction can remove harmful lead-based gases before they are mixed in with the air around employees’ work spaces.

In taking further steps to lower the amount of lead employees come into contact with during welding, employers could consider substituting in materials that are less harmful.

“To further reduce welding fumes in work areas, employers may want to consider using less-hazardous materials such as low-fume welding rods and alternative welding methods such as stick welding, which creates less fumes than flux core welding,” according to a document by ASSE.

Employers may also want to strip welding or cutting materials of any paint, solvents or other residue that could result in giving off hazardous fumes.

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