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Welding fume - Reducing the risk

HSE issues safety alert on welding fume

New evidence shows exposure to mild steel welding fume can cause cancer. Employers should use suitable controls for all welding work. The current guidance on mild steel welding is out of date and will be updated as soon as possible to take account of this new evidence.

Safety alert

This page expand on the basic ‘what you need to do’ guidance contained in the welders, managers pages. Here you will find more detailed information on issues that may help you reduce the amount of fume you generate and working practices that can help reduce the risk to the welder. For information on local exhaust ventilation (LEV) see welding – do I need fume extraction also the LEV website which has plenty of further information.

There are some links to other areas of the HSE website and some selected external websites. We have attempted to direct you to external websites that provide good quality information however HSE is not responsible for web content on these external websites. Information found on external linked websites may not be sufficient for you to comply with the law. Opinions found on these sites are not necessarily those of HSE.

Fume and gases from welding and cutting

Minimise fume

Can the job be designed so there is less hot work (welding, gouging, manual flame/plasma cutting)?

There are numerous options, the following are just a selection. Some, or all of them may not be applicable to your particular job:

Can the manufacturing sequence or techniques be modified so there is less hot work?

Can you use a welding technique that makes less fume?

Manual arc welding processes

TIG produces the least fume although it does produce significant amounts of ozone and nitrous oxide both of which are irritant gases. MIG and MAG generally produce quite a lot more fume. MMA (stick) welding and flux cored tend to produce the most fume. If you can automate the arc welding process then submerged arc welding, ‘hot wire’ TIG or perhaps electron beam welding may be practical and cost effective.

For further information on welding and jointing techniques and their characteristics see the TWI Job knowledge sheets.

Resistance welding

Resistance welding generally produces less fume than manual arc welding processes. One example of replacing manual arc welding with resistance welding techniques is the fixing of fairing aids in ship building. These can be fixed using stud welded bolts rather than arc welding the bracket directly to the hull. There is less fume produced when welding the item and less grinding to remove it afterwards.

Are your welders using the optimum set up?

Excessive currents and long duty cycles tend to generate excess fume and can affect weld quality. Optimise your shielding gas so you get the best production speed and lowest fume emissions. All the major welding gas suppliers produce shielding gases which allow welders to lay down welds faster, produce better quality finishes and reduce fume at the same time. Ask your gas supplier which is the optimum shield gas mix for your application.

Reduce the time the welder is forced to breathe the fume arising directly from the torch

Further information

The COSHH Essentials welding guidance offer useful guidance.

A useful online selector tool has been developed by the Scottish Centre for Healthy Working Lives

Updated 2019-04-02