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Welding Safety Tips: Protect Yourself from Fumes


Every welder knows that they must take precautions where explosions, sparks, fires, and potential eye damage is concerned. They know they have to wear the right clothing and take care to maintain their equipment properly. Every welder knows that they have to make sure valves are on cylinders properly and that hoses are not leaking. Yet many welders forget the unseen danger of welding fumes.

Many welding safety tips publications do not include sections about fumes. They always include sections on proper attire and avoiding explosions, yet fumes are often ignored. Whether you work for yourself or for someone else, you must limit your exposure to fumes as much as possible. Good ventilation, special equipment, and shielding are all necessary. Following some basic welding safety tips will also help you avoid fumes that can cause everything from mild irritation of the eyes and lungs to death.

Ventilation is extremely important. A hood is considered to be a kind of local exhaust ventilation and can reduce the fumes that are in or near your breathing zone. General ventilation is also needed, but it uses floor or roof fans, roof vents, and windows and moves air throughout the work area but it isn't geared to your personal space like a hood is. Local exhaust ventilation works much better than general ventilation but if it's possible, it's best to use both kinds of ventilation. By law, if some toxic metals are present and the welder has to work in a small, crowded area that has limited access, self-contained breath respirators and local exhaust ventilation are required. If you decide to use a personal respirator as part of your personal protective equipment along with your normal goggles, helmet, and other gear, make sure to use it in addition to general or local ventilation and not instead of.

Just what fumes can you be exposed to as a welder? Manganese is the biggest danger when you are working. Manganese can cause serious damage to your nervous system and brain. Many welders that are exposed to manganese develop Parkinson's disease. Often they develop what is known as “manganism” which is a disease that is closely related to Parkinson's and makes it difficult to move or walk properly. Tremors, shakes, and muscle control loss are also symptoms and both diseases get worse as time moves on.

If the base metal or welding rod is mild steel or iron, then iron oxide may also be in the fumes. This can irritate the lungs, throat, and nasal passages. Stainless steel can produce fumes that contain chromium and nickel. If a welder has asthma, they must limit exposure to nickel as it can make the illness worse. Chromium causes or aggravates sinus problems. Both fumes – nickel and chromium – have been linked to cancer.

Even the coatings on plated or painted metals can be dangerous. Steel often has a coating of cadmium to prevent rust, but cadmium fumes causes kidney failure, lung disease, and emphysema. Lead oxide is another fume released from coatings like paint. It can lead to lead poisoning and damage to the kidneys, nervous system, and reproductive system. Asbestos is also in some welding rods and can cause asbestos-related diseases such as an aggressive lung cancer and lung scarring.

Having the proper ventilation can protect you from dangerous fumes. Pay close attention to the welding safety tips posted by your company so you know what you might be dealing with and can work without becoming ill.

Ed C.


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