Latest News: Changes in the HSE Enforcement Expectations for Mild Steel Welding Fumes

June 17th, 2019

Changes in the HSE Enforcement Expectations for Mild Steel Welding Fumes

Due to the emergence of new evidence in relation to the carcinogenicity of welding fume, a Weld Fume Safety Alert was issued by the Health & Safety Executive (HSE) in February 2019.
Here at Sheet Piling (UK) Ltd we place the highest priority on Health & Safety and have promptly responded to this Safety Alert.

New scientific evidence from the International Agency for Research on Cancer has identified that exposure to mild steel welding fumes can cause lung cancer and possibly kidney cancer in humans. The Workplace Health Expert Committee has endorsed the reclassification of mild steel welding fume as a human carcinogen.

With immediate effect, there will be a strengthening of the HSE’s enforcement expectation for all welding fume, including mild steel welding; because general ventilation does not achieve the necessary control.

Regardless of duration, HSE will no longer accept any welding undertaken without any suitable exposure control measures in place, as there is no known level of safe exposure.

The control of the cancer risk will therefore require suitable engineering controls for all welding activities indoors e.g. Local Exhaust Ventilation (LEV). Extraction will also control exposure to manganese, which is present in mild steel welding fumes, which can cause neurological effects similar to Parkinson’s disease.

Where LEV alone does not adequately control exposure, the HSE has stated that this should be supplemented by adequate and suitable respiratory protective equipment (RPE) to protect against the residual fume.

The primary requirements of any RPE, is to ensure that not only is the correct RPE selected, but that it is fitted and used correctly.

To ensure these criteria are fulfilled, the Sheet Piling (UK) Ltd Health and Safety Team have attended ‘Face Fit’ Training Courses and have already commenced rolling out an on-site RPE Programme to our workforce.

This programme will ensure that the selected RPE will provide the highest levels of protection to our workforce, by ensuring that each piece of RPE is individually ‘face fitted’ to each welder.

The Sheet Piling (UK) Ltd H&S Team are also ensuring that each welder is suitably instructed and trained in the use of the RPE, including the correct methods for storage and maintenance.

Our Risk Assessments have also been reviewed and updated by our Health and Safety Team, to reflect the changes in the expected control measures.
In summary, the action required is as follows:

  1. Make sure exposure to any welding fume released is adequately controlled using engineering controls (typically LEV).
  2. Make sure suitable controls are provided for all welding activities, irrelevant of duration. This includes welding outdoors.
  3. Where engineering controls alone cannot control exposure, then adequate and suitable respiratory protective equipment (RPE) should be provided to control risk from any residual fume.
  4. Make sure all engineering controls are correctly used, suitable maintained and are subject to thorough examination and test where required.
  5. Make sure any RPE is subject to an RPE programme.


Mild Steel Welding Fumes

The above photograph shows one of our company welders undergoing a Face Fit Test to ensure that the RPE he is being issued with, fits correctly. He is seen wearing the test ‘hood’ which is used to contain the non-toxic test solution which is sprayed into the hood using a nebuliser, which can also been seen in the photograph, on the left hand side. The welder is also wearing a 3M Half Face Respirator fitted with 3M 2138 P3 R Filters which are rated against welding fume. Once the initial face fit test has been carried out, there will be an on-going schedule of testing and inspecting, to ensure that the integrity and proper use of the RPE issued, is maintained to the highest levels.

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Sheet Piling (UK) Limited is one of the UK's leading piling contractors. Owning and operating a comprehensive range of specialist piling equipment Sheet Piling (UK) Ltd also carry extensive stocks of new and used piles enabling rapid reaction to any urgent requirements or emergency situations.