A growing cohort of welders is facing the consequences of inhaling fumes that have become increasingly linked to cancer over decades. In 2017, all welding fumes were classified as Group 1 carcinogens, known to cause cancer. A peer-reviewed study by the World Health Organisation in 2022 estimated that workers exposed to welding fumes had a 48 percent higher likelihood of developing lung cancer and a 27 percent higher likelihood of dying from it.
Similar to asbestos or silica dust, welding fumes can trigger lung inflammation and the replacement of lung cells, potentially leading to the development of cancerous cells. Eddie Lorenzi, a welder, passed away on July 16, 2021, at Royal Melbourne Hospital, four months after being diagnosed with stage 4 lung cancer. WorkSafe Victoria determined that his exposure to welding fumes had increased his cancer risk. The Lorenzi family received the first of two workers' compensation claims. This follows the case of ex-welder Anh Tran, who won workers' compensation in 2014 after having his right lung surgically removed.
To be harmed by welding fumes, inhalation is necessary. Possible ways to control this risk include reducing the concentration of fumes in the air and protecting individuals from inhaling them.
In line with the Netherlands and Germany, where exposure limits are set at 1.25 mg and 1 mg respectively, the Australian Manufacturing Workers' Union (AMWU) is advocating for stricter exposure limits to welding fumes. According to Dave Henry, the AMWU's national work health and safety coordinator, "Under the current standard, welders are legally allowed to breathe in 11 milligrams of a known carcinogen [each year]. It’s mind-boggling."
Learn more about the AMWUs campaign here.