Where are the hazards?
Welding fume (which includes irritating gases such as oxides of nitrogen and ozone) can cause irritation and 'metal fume fever'.
Abrasive blasting produces a great deal of dust that includes metals, metal oxides and may contain respirable crystalline silica (RCS). Each situation is different. The risk depends on the process, the metal, the rod and flux, surface contaminants, and where the task is done.
What are the risks?
Welding fume in the longer term can lead to lung diseases and increase the risk of occupational asthma and cancer. Fume and dust from allied processes can cause lung disease and occupational asthma.
If you are exposed to RCS then you are at risk of developing silicosis. This disease makes breathing more difficult and increases the risk of lung infections. Silicosis usually follows many years of exposure to RCS. However, exceptionally high exposures over a few months or years can cause acute silicosis, which can cause death within months of exposure. Heavy and prolonged exposure to RCS under the conditions that produce silicosis can cause lung cancer.
You may also develop chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD), which prevents you from breathing properly. COPD is a term that includes chronic bronchitis and emphysema.
How to control
It is important to keep dust and fumes exposure to a minimum. Ensure control measures are in good working order. This means mechanical (eg extraction, respirators), administrative (eg supervision, health surveillance) and operator (following instructions). Show that control is being sustained – keep good records and carry out health monitoring regularly.
Risks to health can be greatly reduced where exposure to fumes and RCS is controlled.
- Confined spaces: A brief guide to working safely
- Control of exposure to silica dust: A guide for employees
- Health surveillance for those exposed to respirable crystalline silica (RCS)