Welding employers may be at risk for lawsuits due to welding fume exposure

When employers fail to warn their employees about the risks of exposure to welding fumes or do not provide them with adequate protection, such as equipment for welding fume extraction, they may find themselves as the defendants in personal injury lawsuits. Inhaling welding fumes can lead to a variety of health conditions and problems, with some workers claiming they have developed Parkinson's disease as a result of manganese exposure.

A woman in Missouri recently filed a lawsuit against the James F. Lincoln Arc Welding Foundation for injuries related to welding fumes, legal news site HarrisMartin Publishing reported. The James F. Lincoln Arc Welding Foundation is a nonprofit founded in 1936, according to its website. The foundation aims to educate people in arc welding, named for the arc that is made when an electric current is generated between the welding device and materials, which is a low cost way to fuse together materials with a welding device. 

Lawsuits against welding industry expected to increase
According to the American Society of Safety Engineers (ASSE), an increasing number of welders are filing workers' compensation claims regarding welding fume exposure. In addition to employers facing a rising number of workers' compensation claims and personal injury lawsuits, they may also have to deal with class-action lawsuits, such as one filed in West Virginia on the behalf of 3,700 plaintiffs.

The ASSE said an estimated 10,000 welders around the U.S. have sued current and former welding rod manufacturers, distributors and suppliers. Cases involving welding fume exposure are becoming so prevalent, welders filing lawsuits might outnumber the amount of plaintiffs that are claiming asbestos as their main reason for a lawsuit.

The plaintiffs claim exposure to manganese, which is a common chemical workers may inhale as a welding fume, is a major occupational hazard because this can lead to neurologic effects and problems, such as a Parkinsonian syndrome known as "manganism," according to the National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health (NIOSH).

ASSE urges employers to protect welding workers
The welders filing the lawsuits have either shown signs of manganese-induced parkinsonism and/or Parkinson's disease or have a history of being exposed to manganese. Parkinson-like symptoms may include tremors, rigid muscles and poor balance, according to NIOSH.

The cases welders brought against welding industry firms can lead to large settlements, such as the $1 million awarded to Larry Elam, a former welder, after he claimed he developed manganese-induced parkinsonism because he breathed in welding fumes on the job.

"The jury decided that welding rod manufacturers neglected to warn Elam about the potential health risks associated with breathing welding rod fumes," the ASSE said.

To avoid lawsuits, employers should establish engineering controls for welding fume extraction, such as extractor arms, to directly remove toxic gases like manganese away from the breathing space of welding workers.

"As welding fume lawsuits escalate in number and severity, employers must play an active role in preventing welding fume exposure in the workplace," the ASSE said. "The health risks associated with routine manganese exposure are many, but more must be done to verify the existence of a relationship between manganese and Parkinson's disease."

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