It has recently been announced that the Health and Safety Executive’s Workplace Health Expert Committee has reclassified all welding fume as a human carcinogen.

Therefore, the Health and Safety Executive (HSE) have revised their enforcement expectations in relation to this hazardous substance – and it is quite likely that the arrangements currently in place to control exposure to welding fume in some metal fabricating workshops and factories will not be considered adequate under the new regime.

The HSE now require:

  • All welding work to be subject to effective and correctly used engineering controls. The engineering controls the HSE has in mind include measures like local exhaust ventilation (LEV), rather than general ventilation, which is not considered adequate, given the increased level of risk assigned to welding fume.
  • Adequate and suitable respiratory protective equipment (RPE) to be provided to control the residual risk where engineering controls such as LEV are not adequate to control all exposure.
  • Suitable RPE to be provided to all workers exposed to welding fume where welding work is undertaken in the open air.

As there is no accepted safe level of exposure to welding fume, the HSE say they will not accept any welding being done without suitable control measures in place, regardless of the duration of exposure.

The HSE have also said that, later in the year, they intend to launch a specific campaign of inspection targeting metal fabrication premises, during which their inspectors will be particularly focusing on exposure to welding fume.

If the HSE finds a business has not implemented adequate measures to control exposure, they may take enforcement action, which can include fees for intervention, the issue of improvement notices, prohibition notices and prosecution.