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A welder has to bear sound pollution, metal fumes, vibration, and dust continuously which are detrimental to the human body. So, is welding bad for your health? Yes, it is. The welders face many health risks if they do not take precautionary steps.
The long-term effects of welding are alarming. Little discomforts due to welding eventually pile up and create major health issues. But taking simple steps and being aware can help welders protect their health.
This article will hopefully give you some knowledge about welder health issues, probable causes, and how to prevent those.
What health problems are most commonly associated with welding?
There are a lot of discomforts and illnesses one can face due to welding. They can be roughly categorized into a few types. These are discussed below –
• Respiratory issues
Pneumonia, asthma, cancers, metal fume fever, throat and lung irritation, temporary reduction of lung function, bronchitis etc fall into this category.
NIOSH published a study in 2003 on scientific literature regarding health issues associated with welding. In the article on ‘Health Effects of Welding’, it was stated that many respiratory issues the workers face are directly or indirectly related to welding fumes and the environment.
Welders are at risk of lung infections which often can lead to severe or even fatal pneumonia. Modern clinical advancements usually help the patients get rid of the infection but around 40 to 50 welders get hospitalized for this reason every year. And two of those cases are fatal. So it is indeed a serious problem to consider.
Every year more or less nine workers suffer from asthma due to work environment-induced reasons. They even suffer so severely. Although recent research from HSE said that the fumes from welding do not directly cause asthma, they also suggest workers to control fumes as much as possible to protect themselves.
Almost 90% risk of upper-band cancer is due to nickel (range 6.03E-03 to 2.12E-02) and also hexavalent chromium exposure.
Stainless steel welding primarily causes fumes that produce carcinogenic gases. But other fumes from welding are internationally classified to be potentially carcinogenic too.
Welders sometimes have symptoms of the flu after welding. It is called metal fume fever. This mostly happens at the beginning of their working week. Though this usually does not cause lasting effects.
There are many fine metals or other particles in welding gas or fumes that are not quite suitable for the human body. These cause the throat to dry out, tight chest, and tickling cough. This happens usually during TIG welding due to the ozone gas that spreads out in the air. Ozone is known to cause unusual lung fluid. Thus lung capacity degrades due to long-term exposure to these gases or fumes.
• Hand-Arm Vibration Syndrome and Carpal Tunnel Syndrome
Needle scaling and grinding are associated with welding. These cause risks in terms of hand or arm vibration. This can lead to HAnd-Arm Vibration Syndrome (HAVS) and Carpal Tunnel Syndrome (CTS).
Some welders can develop signs of these issues from an early stage of their career. HAVS is preventable but unfortunately, the damage is irreversible.
• Noise-related health risks
Electric arc welding generates harmful noise levels. Though TIG-Welding is an exception in this case, the welding environment and other works that come with it are noisy.
There’s a list of noise levels associated with different welding types.
|Welding type||Noise level|
|Flame cutting||100 dB(A)|
|Air arc gouging||100-115 dB(A)|
|Flame gouging||95 dB(A)|
|Plasma cutting||Hand-held 100A maximum|
|Metal Inert Gas(MIG)||95-102|
|Manual Metal Arc (MMA)||85-95 dB|
• Musculoskeletal disorder
Welding calls for regularly twisting or sitting in uncomfortable positions which can be hazardous to human health. Parkinson’s disease is also particularly linked to the manganese that welding fumes contain according to a press release from Washington University School of Medicine.
One article from NIOSH also stated that welding fumes can cause nervous system damage too. The fumes contain nickel, manganese and chromium which are classified as potentially carcinogenic. But not enough study material is found to prove that fumes can cause these extreme health issues.
The Provision and Use of Work Equipment Regulations 1998 suggest employers consider the safety of the workers to avoid health risks that they may face while choosing the equipment for them.
The American Federation of State, County, and Municipal Employees (AFSCME) offer a welding hazards fact sheet that lists health and safety issues associated with welding, brazing, soldering, and metal cutting.
According to a fact sheet provided by AFSCME, welding smoke is a harmful mixture of fine particles and gases. zinc, chromium, asbestos, nickel, arsenic, beryllium, manganese, phosgene, silica cadmium, acrolein, nitrogen oxides, fluorine compounds, cobalt, carbon monoxide, copper, ozone, lead, selenium are found in welding fumes which are extremely toxic. These fumes are produced from filler or base material, metal coats or paints over the welding electrode, chemical reactions from UV light and heat, shielding gases, etc.
Around 50% of the manganese poisoning cases were stooped posture constipation and fatigue according to a study.
• Eye problems
Out of all welding consequences, 25% of them are eye-related. However, most of these eye injuries are preventable. Almost 95% of welders suffering from eye injuries usually get back to work in a week. More than 50% return within 2 days. But they should maintain the safety protocol to avoid these issues altogether.
• Short-term effects
Short-term effects of welding fumes are mostly coughing, irritation of nose, eyes, and chest, shortness of breath, edema, bronchitis, loss of appetite, lung inflammation (pneumonitis), nausea, vomiting, cramps, etc.
• Long-term effects
Long-term effects of welding are chronic lung-related problems such as pneumonia, bronchitis, asthma, silicosis, emphysema, siderosis, etc. Also lung cancer, urinary tract cancer, larynx cancer, Parkinson’s disease, hearing loss, skin diseases, ulcers of the stomach, gastritis, kidney damage, heart disease, infertility, etc.
How do you avoid these health issues caused by welding?
RPE is Respiratory Protective Equipment that helps to address the problem caused by fumes when other measures can not reduce or prevent the particles below WEL, Workplace Exposure Limit.
Disposable face masks or reusable respirators are a good option for protection from welding fumes. Using the right equipment to keep the vibration under safe level is necessary. Proper instruction and training should be provided to welders before they start.
Person in charge should report some cases of HAVS and all vibration-related CTS cases to HSE with the Reporting of Injuries, Diseases and Dangerous Occurrences Regulations (RIDDOR).
To avoid noise pollution, buying material already cut to the required size is advised. Also, substitution, engineering and administrative controls and providing PPE can be beneficial for welders. And earplugs, muffs, etc protection should be provided.
Using proper ventilation can be helpful to drive away welding fumes. Local exhaust ventilation removes gases and fumes right at the source before the gases reach welders. Also, workers should maintain and clean ventilation systems properly.
Frequently asked questions (FAQs)
Q. Why are welding fumes hazardous?
Answer: It contains very harmful particles that are detrimental to human health.
Q. How can welding fumes enter your body?
Answer: Welding fumes enter the human body through lungs.
Q. Can welding damage your eyes?
Answer: Yes, certainly welding damages your eyes if you don’t maintain safety protocol.
Welding is undoubtedly a bit risky for your health. But maintaining safety protocols can prevent such health hazards to a great extent. However, some of these consequences are quite inevitable but mostly curable.
So it is safe to answer the question- is welding bad for your health? as- yes, it is risky only if you are not careful. But if you follow proper instructions, it is mostly safe.
Hopefully this article was helpful to give you specific information regarding this topic.