Discover the real impact of welding on health with our deep dive into welder health risks. From metal fume fever to an increased risk of various types of cancer, we explore the dangers that welders face and the preventive measures that can be taken. Learn about the role of personal protective equipment, local exhaust ventilation, and facility-wide filtration systems in safeguarding welder health. Understand the importance of mitigating these risks to ensure a safer welding environment.
Welding is a key trade in modern society. It’s no wonder, with welders participating in industries such as manufacturing, energy, construction, automotive, shipbuilding, renewable energy, and many, many more.
Today we will explore some of the common health risks that welders face, and ways to mitigate those risks as much as possible.
The welding process vaporizes metals, resulting in a plume of smoke that is often visible, depending on the welding process used.
As a welder inhales these fumes, they often face sickness, such as metal fume fever, an illness with flu-like symptoms such as fever, shaking chills, headaches, malaise, muscle aches and joint pain. The risks extend beyond metal fume fever, however.
When compared with non-welders, welders are at a greatly increased risk of developing cancer.
For example when compared with non-welders, welders have a:
- 16% increased risk of lung cancer
- 78% increased risk of mesothelioma
- 40% greater risk of bladder cancer
- 30% greater risk of kidney cancer
The risks vary based on what metals or carcinogens workers are exposed to.
Some of the common carcinogens that welders are exposed to include: nickel, hexavalent chromium, iron, manganese, aluminum, cadmium, silica, lead, asbestos, and UV radiation.
Many of these are linked to various cancers.
Inhaling hexavalent chromium increases the risk of respiratory cancers, while ingesting it through drinking water is linked to various oral cancers and cancer of the small intestine.
Inorganic lead is linked to cancer of the stomach, kidney, brain, and nervous system.
Nickel is an established carcinogen leading to lung and nasal cancer.
Cadmium is linked with lung cancer and an increased risk of kidney and bladder cancer.
UV radiation from welding is linked to ocular melanoma, while asbestos in the work environment or use of asbestos in welding products is linked to mesothelioma.
This means that while welders as a group have an increased risk of developing cancer, it also varies depending on what industry they’re working in.
Welders in the transport vehicle repair industry are at a 40% greater risk of developing cancer than non-welders.
Welders in construction have a 250% increased risk of mesothelioma than non-welders.
The highest risk group are welders in the shipbuilding and repair industry, where they’re 350% more likely to get cancer than non-welders.
This risk even extends to those who only do occasional welding as part of their duties, where 1 in 10 will be diagnosed with at least one incident of primary cancer later on.
Thankfully, there are preventative measures businesses and welders can take.
Purified Air Powered Respirator, or PAPR, welding helmets feed purified air into the welding helmet.
This is often combined with local exhaust ventilation, or at source fume extraction, such as those found in mobile or stationary fume extractors. Some of these units come with either integrated or optional HEPA filters, which may be a regulatory requirement in certain jurisdictions.
In addition to these measures, facilities are also often outfitted with their own extraction, filtration, and ventilation systems, through the use of large filters, diluters, or push-pull systems.
A combination of personal, local exhaust ventilation, and facility-wide filtration is the best solution to minimizing exposure to welding fumes and reducing health risks.