Welders’ Occupational Risk

Workers involved in “hot work” are at occupational risk of Hexavalent Chromium exposure

Workers involved in “hot work” are at occupational risk of Hexavalent Chromium exposure

It has long been known that “hot work” jobs come with occupational risks. Hot work is any work that involves burning or using fire- or spark-producing tools, such as one does when welding. Welding, the act of heating surfaces together to the point of melting, creates great potential for hazards to occur. Fire, explosions and exposure to toxic fumes and gases are top risks for hot work welders.

US fire departments have responded to an average of 4400 annual hot-work related fires in recent years. Welding was involved with 34% of those incidents, (1) all of which resulted in over 200 deaths and #287 million dollars in damages.

But by far, the most common occupational risk for welders is toxic inhalation due to poor indoor air quality. Fumes and gases emitted from the welding process hover in a worker’s air space if proper control measures are not taken. The toxins that welders are exposed to are abundant and dangerous.

One such toxin is hexavalent chromium, a compound produced through industrial processes. (2) While short term exposures will not likely cause ill health effects, long-term exposure in professions such as welding can reap harmful returns. (3)

Hexavalent chromium is added to alloy steel for corrosion-resistance, durability, and hardness. (4) NIOSH considers all Cr(VI) compounds to be occupational carcinogens. Cr(VI) is a well-established carcinogen associated with lung, nasal, and sinus cancer. In addition, hexavalent chromium targets the respiratory system, kidneys, liver, skin, and eyes. (4) Additional negative, but not as serious, health effects include skin irritation and corrosiveness, ulcers, sensitivity, allergic dermatitis. (2)

The health effects are serious and if contact with the compound is unavoidable, specific measures need to be taken to reduce, if not eliminate, possible exposure. The CDC recommends elimination or substitution as the first steps to avoid exposure. When that is not possible, personal protective equipment is a must, followed by proper exhaust ventilation and engineering controls to remove the vapors and particles from indoor air.

The welding profession is one of the oldest in America, the occupational risks to health for welders doesn’t have to continue to be —-

At Air Systems Inc., we serve our customers in the welding industry who wish to protect their press operators by providing indoor air quality management solutions in addition to stellar IAQ products. Our fume extraction systems create clean air and a safe place to work. Contact us today for a free air quality assessment with one of our skilled and experienced indoor environmental specialists.