Employers warned of cancer-causing welding fumes danger

18 January 2019 | By Neil Gerrard

Image: Dreamstime/Gerasimovvv

Employers need to protect workers from cancer-causing welding fumes, as enforcement of raised control standards take effect this week, the Institution of Occupational Safety and Health (IOSH) has warned.

The enforced control measures for welding operations have been introduced by the UK Health and Safety Executive (HSE).

It follows an announcement from the International Agency for Research on Cancer (IARC), who have classified welding fumes and UV radiation from welding as group 1 carcinogens.

The widely used system for classifying carcinogens, devised by the International Agency for Research on Cancer (IARC), is divided into four groups. Group 4 contains substances probably not carcinogenic to humans, while group 2B substances are "possibly carcinogenic" and group 2A are "probably carcinogenic". Group 1 represents the highest level of risk and contains a little over 100 substances classified simply as "carcinogenic to humans".

IARC published its findings in Lancet Oncology in 2017 in a paper titled ‘Carcinogenicity of welding, molybdenum trioxide, and indium tin oxide’.

The HSE announcement was shared with the Industry and Regulatory Forum on Local Exhaust Ventilation (LEV) last week.

The raised enforced control standards state that all forms of welding fume can cause cancer.

Control is required where:



Enforcement of the raised control standards is with immediate effect under Control of Substances Hazardous to Health (COSHH) Regulation 7.

The HSE will issue a ‘Safety Alert’ in the near future and control requirements will be communicated through the HSE website. The HSE is also currently developing an intervention plan.

IOSH advised dutyholders are advised to follow guidance in the BOHS Welding Fume Control Selector Tool which is available via the Breathe Freely website.

Michael Edwards, IOSH’s occupational safety and health content developer, who represents the institution on the LEV committee said: “The raised control standards for welding fumes are now in effect for organisations within the UK and will have implications to a whole range of different industries where welding operations occur. Further efforts must be made to protect workers involved in welding as part of their roles.

“IOSH urges employers in the UK to review current welding control measures in place to ascertain that they meet these raised control standards. This may also mean that risk assessments and risk registers may need updating to ensure that they reflect the new requirements.”

A spokesperson for HSE said: “HSE is currently reviewing evidence relating to the exposure to welding fumes from working on all types of metal. We are consulting with industry stakeholders to prepare for any additional measures needed to control exposure to welding fumes. We will confirm the updated position as soon as is appropriate.”


I am still baffled by the fact that, if the fumes are so dangerous and carcinogenic, why is PPE still the main source of protection. Surely in this technological age of engineering, is there really nothing more we can do but rely on the use of PPE? Any and all forms of ventilation should first be explored if not eliminating the person from the equation by using robot welders. We must really get better at using the hierarchy of control.

Kobus, 22 January 2019

Is the HSE lumping all the different forms if welding together under one generic risk? So orbital TIG welding of stainless steel and MIG welding of mild steel require the same considerations to fine extraction do they? Typical.

Steve, 24 January 2019

Orbital TIG welding ...

How does an engineer extract the 'fume' during in-situ welding, working at 10 metres in the air in a scissor lift, moving from one weld to another and the nearest point at which the extracted 'fume' can be vented outside ... in a safe area, of course! ... is 100 metres away and growing?

As Steve has said above, the HSE appear to be lumping all forms of welding together under one generic risk. However, they do not appear to be looking at the many forms of welding. Moreover, they appear to be approaching it as if all welding takes place in a welding bay.

Real life is not quite so simple.

Steve B, 11 September 2019

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