Updated: Apr 17, 2020
Finishing Off the Lead Up to World Cancer Day
So here we are...
it's World Cancer Day. On the run-up to the 4th February 2020, we've provided our readers with some food for thought around carcinogenic substances which are present across some of the industries in which we operate as occupational hygienists.
Our aim of these blogs and articles is to provide an awareness around specific substances which pose a risk to health and to help you recognise how these can affect you and the exposed groups. More can be found at the bottom of this page.
So, let's finish off...
Introduction to Welding Fume
In this article, we would like to highlight the concerns around the adverse health effects associated with welding fume including those linked to the incidence of cancer.
Welding fume is airborne particulate made up of several metal constituents including the likes of Iron, Manganese and Zinc depending on the grade of steel being worked and the makeup of the welding consumables.
For the purpose of this article, we aim to provide an overview of the exposure risks noted for welding as well as focus on one of the metal constituents which is considered to have a causal link with the onset of cancer. This being Hexavalent Chromium, or as commonly termed; Chromium VI.
Remember - if you have any concerns regarding Welding Fume and wish to speak with a professional occupational hygienist - click here to contact us today! We are here to support you.
An Overview of Welding Fume
A large proportion of the readers of this article will remember that in February 2019 the Health and Safety Executive (HSE) published document STSU1 2019 titled: Changes in Enforcement Expectations for Mild Steel Welding Fume. In this bulletin it is outlined that there has been new scientific evidence from the International Agency for Research on Cancer (IARC) that exposure to mild steel welding fume can cause lung cancer and possibly kidney cancer in humans and, as such, has been reclassified as Category 1: Carcinogenic to Humans.
Under this reclassification, the HSE have noted that regardless of duration, they will no longer accept any welding be undertaken without any suitable exposure control measures in place. This is due to there being no known level of safe exposure.
Exposure to Chromium VI
Chromium VI and its compounds can be present in many processes and products including the production and use of stainless steel and, of course, during the welding and cutting of this grade of steel. This substance may also be found in pigments for paint and pottery as well as during electroplating processes.
Chromium VI compounds pose the most significant health hazards when compared to the other valent states of Chromium. Single exposures to Chromium VI compounds may lead to the irritation and inflammation of the nose and upper respiratory tract, irritation of the skin with skin contact and for chromic acid, burns to the skin, possibly leading to ulcers;
Repeated exposure to Chromium VI compounds may cause significant damage to the nose, including ulcers and holes in the flap of tissue separating the nostrils - the nasal septum, inflammation of the lungs, allergic reactions in the skin and respiratory tract and potential kidney damage.
As a key discussion point of this article is the onset of occupationally related cancer, it would be prudent to highlight that the main target organ, in this case, is the lung. The International Agency for Research on Cancer (IARC) has designated Chromium VI as Category 1: Carcinogenic to Humans. This is especially the case if the substance becomes airborne and inhaled where a causal link between long term exposure and the onset of lung cancer has been identified. It may also be noted that there have been associative links observed between exposure to Chromium VI and nasal cancer.
Personal exposure is known to occur among employees who handle chromate-containing products as well as those who grind and weld stainless steel. Workers who are exposed to Chromium VI are at increased risk of developing lung cancer, asthma and damage to the nasal epithelia and skin.
The latency period between exposure to Chromium VI and the onset of lung cancer can be up to 20 years.
What control measures do I need to implement to protect me against welding fume and Chromium VI?
It must be understood that general ventilation does not achieve adequate control of welding fume. Control of exposure to such fumes requires more effective engineering controls such as local exhaust ventilation (LEV). A purpose-built LEV system will achieve exposure control at the source of fume generation which offers protection to the immediate welder as well as those working in the area.
Care should be taken however as the LEV is only as effective as the training the user has received which must always include what the LEV does, how it should be used and how to look after it. In more recent times it is evident that the use of on-torch extraction is becoming a greater option when compared to the traditional capture hood although the latter still has its place in fume control for years to come.
It is considered that the use of LEV should be seen as the primary measure with the use of respiratory protective equipment (RPE) adopted as a supportive secondary control measure or in specific circumstances whereby LEV has been demonstrated as infeasible through suitable risk assessment.
The RPE must, of course, be fit for purpose with consideration given to the level of protection offered, the facial anthropometrics as well as the behaviours and culture of the workforce to name but a few. In today's industrial setting it would appear that the use of powered RPE devices is the preferred choice verses the historical option of orinasal filtering facepiece styles of RPE… certainly a positive direction in most cases of occupational exposure control.
By adopting these methods of control the likelihood of personal exposure to the carcinogenic fumes will be greatly reduced meaning all of your employees go home healthy to their families and friends which is the common goal amongst us all, is it not?
We've enjoyed sharing these insightful pieces of information with you. Albeit, these have been snippets of informative points of discussion, we hope these have brought you a greater level of awareness around carcinogens present in the workplace today.
As mentioned, Workplace Scientifics are professional occupational hygiene specialists and can undergo a wide range of assessments to help you manage your COSHH requirements through evaluating, anticipating, measuring and controlling the risk associated with chemical exposure. If you need to speak with an expert occupational hygienist, feel free to contact us for a free consultation.
We have covered some key substances which are present across many industries. For example, Hardwood and Mixed Wooden Composites, Diesel Engine Exhaust Emissions, Styrene and now Welding Fume. All of these blogs/articles have been designed to help you understand and recognise carcinogenic materials. Allowing you to evaluate whether you have a suitable and acceptable level of control in your workplace.
These are just a few known or suspected human carcinogens. Often, carcinogenic constituents are part of complex chemical mixtures and would require the help and guidance from a competent occupational hygienist.
We would like to thank you for sharing our message of "building partnerships, creating safer working environments, together". We aim to work with you in support of reducing work-related illness by using our industry knowledge to help you design and implement occupational hygiene plans.
If you would like to know more about what services we offer, get in touch today. We will provide our details at the end of this blog/article.
If you haven't yet seen our "4 days to World Cancer Day" publications; check them out on the links below.
Introducing Wood Processing
Diesel Engine Exhaust Emissions Awareness
Styrene Exposure Linked with Occupational Cancer
For help managing your COSHH requirements, please don't hesitate to contact us today for free advice.
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