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  • Kyle Durward

Top tips for metal fabricators

Breathing in welding fume and metalworking fluids can cause serious lung diseases.

HSE inspectors continue to visit businesses across Great Britain as part of their targeted inspections programme. Inspectors are checking that welding and use of metalworking fluids are correctly managed and carried out to minimise risk to workers’ health.

If your workers use metalworking fluids or undertake welding activities, they have free resources available to ensure your business is taking the necessary precautions.

Visit their new Work Right campaigns website to download their top tips and watch a presentation on metalworking fluids. You can also access specific HSE guidance to help manage the risks from welding fumes and metalworking fluids.

During the inspections, one of the main issues identified for controlling exposure to metalworking fluid mist has been the lack of local exhaust ventilation (LEV) on CNC machines, guidance on this key control measure can be found on their website.

Health surveillance for people using metalworking fluids has also been required, providing a scheme of repeated health checks to identify if an employee’s health is being adversely affected by their work. Further information on setting up a health surveillance system is available.

Earlier this year, an engineering company was fined £100,000 when an employee developed an allergic form of dermatitis after coming into contact with metalworking fluids. This HSE prosecution highlights the importance of implementing controls to prevent skin contact.

Less than half of sites inspected in their targeted inspections programme had procedures in place to review their welding fume controls.

COSHH regulations require employers to consider the effectiveness of the controls in place to minimise exposure to welding fume. If you do not follow relevant guidance and do not meet the control standards expected in COSHH Essentials, you should be able to demonstrate that the controls being used are effective at protecting the health of your workers.

Suitable techniques to review fume controls are:

  • Biological monitoring of workers exposed to welding fume to measure exposure and the effectiveness of controls such as respiratory protective equipment (RPE), as well as, fume extraction systems and safe working procedures

  • Personal air sampling as part of an occupational hygiene survey to determine the workers’ daily exposure to welding fume.

  • Use of visual indicators such as smoke tubes, dust lamps and air flow measurements to demonstrate how well the local exhaust ventilation (LEV) system captures and removes the fume

If your business relies on LEV to protect your workers from welding fume, make sure you read the HSE guidance on using and maintaining LEV.

Where LEV does not control the risks from welding fume, getting the right Respiratory Protective Equipment (RPE) is critical.

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