Welding poses a range of hazards to your health. These can act quickly such as electric shock or exposure to cadmium fumes, or they may show up in the long term such as lung and breathing disorders. Welding can lead to 'metal fume fever'; welders who have occupational exposure to manganese fumes may be at risk for developing parkinsonism-like neuronal damage; and welders are at a higher risk of developing certain cancers.
A 2014 workers compensation case in Victoria has also recognised a link between welding and lung cancer: A welder succeeded in gaining compensation for lung cancer, after the Victorian County Court found his work - not his 20-year smoking history - caused the disease. The worker, who had to have a lung removed, and suffered cancer in his other lung, argued his disease was caused by his three year employment. When he began welding galvanised steel there were no fans or extraction devices in the factory, nor were masks provided. In winter particularly, with the factory's sliding door closed, the factory would be "full of fumes". Tables with exhaust fans were provided 18 months into the worker's employment, but they were so powerful they would "suck out all the gas" and make welding very difficult. They were also very noisy, causing workers to turn them off. When the Fencing Design bought the company, it provided face masks to workers, but according to the worker, sometimes delayed replacing the necessary filters.
Despite WorkCover's argument that as cigarette smoking was "26 times more likely to be the cause of lung cancer in welders who were also light smokers", the judge Robert Dyer found the worker's adenocarcinoma was significantly contributed to by his welding work. He upheld the worker's claim, finding that welders were at a higher risk (approximately 44 per cent higher for lung cancer generally and 23 per cent higher in relation to adenocarcinoma) of contracting cancer than non-welders in the general population.
In 2017, the International Agency for Research on Cancer (IARC) classified welding fumes and UV radiation from welding as Group 1 carcinogens.
Welding fumes were previously classified in Group 2B, but new evidence from research motivated the change. Two related chemicals, molybdenum trioxide and indium tin oxide, were classified in Group 2B as possibly carcinogenic to humans based on "sufficient evidence."
Read more IARC: Welding Fumes, UV Radiation from Welding Are Carcinogenic, American Industrial Hygienists Association
As at November 2019, however, the Australian guidance material had not been updated to reflect the IARC reclassification. The UK's HSE revised its guidance: The Control of Substances Hazardous to Health direct advice for welding to help make sure exposure to any welding fume released is adequately controlled has been published, along with HSE’s web pages on how to manage exposure to welding fume.
- November 2021: New guidance from WorkSafe Victoria: Controlling exposure to welding fumes
- The model Code of Practice under the model Work Health Safety Act: Welding Processes developed to provide practical guidance for persons conducting a business or undertaking on how to manage health and safety risks associated with welding. It is not (as at August 2017) a Code under the Victorian OHS Act, however, forms part of the 'state of knowledge' and is therefore useful. It can be downloaded from this section of the SWA website.
- The Welding Technical Institute of Australia has a number of documents, including Fume Minimisation Guidelines which can be downloaded from the institute's website
- A webpage on Welding from Workplace Health and Safety Queensland
- from UK union Unite; new guidance (September 2015) which warns that 'welding fumes can kill'. Unite welding leaflet [pdf] and posters [pdf]
- from New Zealand - Health and Safety in Welding and a short Assessment Tool [pdf]
- The UK's HSE has a Welding Health and Safety page, and information on:
- From the US
- Occupational Health and Safety Administration: Welding, Cutting and Brazing
- From PrimeWeld, a commercial company: A Beginner's Guide to Welding Safety
Note: any reference to laws is not relevant to Australian users.
Last amended November 2021