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welders-safety-imageWelding has so many uses in today’s world, from allowing I-beams to hold buildings up to creating wrought iron designs, metal jewelry, and other decorative work. But as you might imagine, there are risks involved with the light, heat and fumes produced by welding. So it’s important to take steps to reduce those risks.

First, the heat and bright light produced by welding can harm your eyesight, and the hot sparks created by the process can burn holes in clothes.  To protect themselves, welders often wear face shields, darkened eye protection and flame retardant jackets. But that’s not all – there are also invisible hazards involved with welding, and in fact last year the International Agency for Research on Cancer, (IARC) designated welding as a human carcinogen, meaning it can cause cancer. Fortunately, there are preventative measures that we share below. If these measures are taken into account, they could save lives.

The hot metal fumes and gases generated can affect welders’ breathing in various ways.  Welders are at risk for asthma, bronchitis, and pulmonary infections. Welding may cause metal fume fever and symptoms of cough and chest pain.  Over the years, welders may develop chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD) and lung fibrosis. Due to these serious health concerns, it is important to always have local exhaust and ventilation systems to draw fumes away. If ventilation is not enough, wear a respirator approved for welding.

It is also important to point out that not all welding is equal.  For example, welding stainless steel is one of the more hazardous processes and is associated with cancer. Ventilation, isolation and respiratory protection are most important with this kind of welding. Also, be sure that surfaces to be welded are clean of paint and other coatings before starting the welding process.

Habits outside of the workplace can affect specific industries as well. For example, welders may smoke, which adds to the risk of disease.  The state has developed various resources to help smokers quit.

Finally, if you’re a welder it’s important to make sure your health care provider is aware of your occupation. Having that knowledge can help your doctor and you make the most informed decisions about your health care.

The Massachusetts Department of Public Health tracks respiratory diseases caused or made worse by work. By identifying hazardous exposures, industries, and occupations, actions can be taken to prevent further harm. 

 

Written By:


Industrial Hygienist, Occupational Health Surveillance Program

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