Welding joins pieces of metal by the use of heat, pressure, or both. Welding is amongst the most dangerous industrial activities. Among the dangers of welding are fire safety, electric shock, compressed gases, toxic fumes, and personal protection for the eyes, hands, feet, and body. Welding required an enormous degree of precautionary planning because the risks of personal injury from any mistake are extremely high.
Science is just discovering the danger of the toxic fumes associated with welding. Fumes are a natural by-product of welding and are expected from even simple welding operations. Even simple welding work should require the use of respiratory protection or ventilation. Simple operations lead to fumes like carbon monoxide, nitrogen oxide, and ozone.
But extra precautions must be taken if you are welding metal coated with or containing zinc, cadmium, chromium, copper, fluoride, lead, manganese, or vanadium because the resulting fumes can cause a condition known as metal fume fever. Another serious concern working with metal that has been coated or painted. Many of the paints that have coated metal are lead-based which is a known carcinogen.
Generally dangerous fumes that are released during welding operations are derived from the following:
Exposure to welding smoke has serious short-term and long-term health effects and often causes lung, heart, kidney, and central nervous system problems. If you believe that you may have suffered from working in the welding industry please explore our site to learn more about the health effects of welding and your legal rights.
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Welding and Your Health
Short-term (acute) health effects of Welding
Exposure to metal fumes (such as zinc, magnesium, copper, and copper oxide) can cause metal fume fever. Symptoms of metal fume fever may occur 4 to 12 hours after exposure and include chills, thirst, fever, muscle ache, chest soreness, coughing, wheezing, fatigue, nausea, and a metallic taste in the mouth.
Welding smoke can also irritate the eyes, nose, chest, and respiratory tract, and cause coughing, wheezing, shortness of breath, bronchitis, pulmonary edema (fluid in the lungs), and pneumonitis (inflammation of the lungs). Gastrointestinal effects, such as nausea, loss of appetite, vomiting, cramps, and slow digestion, have also been associated with welding.
Some components of welding fume, for example, cadmium, can be fatal in a short time. Gases given off by the welding process can also be extremely dangerous. For example, ultraviolet radiation given off by welding reacts with oxygen and nitrogen in the air to form ozone and nitrogen oxides. These gases are deadly at high doses, and can also cause irritation of the nose and throat and serious lung disease.
Ultraviolet rays given off by welding can react with chlorinated hydrocarbon solvents, such as trichloroethylene, 1,1,1-trichloroethane, methylene chloride, and perchloroethylene, to form phosgene gas. Even a very small amount of phosgene may be deadly, although early symptoms of exposure — dizziness, chills, and cough — usually take 5 or 6 hours to appear. Arc welding should never be performed within 200 feet of degreasing equipment or solvents.
Long-term (chronic) health effects of Welding
Studies of welders, flame cutters, and burners have shown that welders have an increased risk of lung cancer, and possibly cancer of the larynx (voice box) and urinary tract.
These findings are not surprising in view of a large number of toxic substances in welding smoke, including cancer-causing agents such as cadmium, nickel, beryllium, chromium, and arsenic.
Welders may also experience a variety of chronic respiratory (lung) problems, including bronchitis, asthma, pneumonia, emphysema, pneumoconiosis (refers to dust-related diseases), decreased lung capacity, silicosis (caused by silica exposure), and siderosis (a dust-related disease caused by iron oxide dust in the lungs).
Other health problems that appear to be related to welding include heart disease, skin diseases, hearing loss, and chronic gastritis (inflammation of the stomach), gastroduodenitis (inflammation of the stomach and small intestine), and ulcers of the stomach and small intestine. Welders exposed to heavy metals such as chromium and nickel have also experienced kidney damage.
Welding also poses reproductive risks to welders. A recent study found that welders, and especially welders who worked with stainless steel, had poorer sperm quality than men in other types of work. Several studies have shown an increase in either miscarriages or delayed conception among welders or their spouses. Possible causes include exposure to (1) metals, such as aluminum, chromium, nickel, cadmium, iron, manganese, and copper, (2) gases, such as nitrous gases and ozone, (3) heat, and (4) ionizing radiation (used to check the welding seams).
Welders who perform welding or cutting on surfaces covered with asbestos insulation are at risk of asbestosis, lung cancer, mesothelioma, and other asbestos-related diseases. Employees should be trained and provided with the proper equipment before welding near asbestos-containing material.
The inherent risk of welding is great therefore the following safety precautions should be used during welding to minimize fume exposure and the chance of fire:
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