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Health & Safety Alert: Revised guidance for exposure to welding fumes

Health & Safety Alert: Revised guidance for exposure to welding fumes

02 December 2019

In February 2019 HSE issued a safety alert to inform industry of a change in relation to the control expectations for exposure to welding fume, including that from mild steel welding.

This followed new scientific evidence from the International Agency for Research on Cancer that exposure to mild steel welding fume can cause lung cancer and possibly kidney cancer in humans.

HSE has now revised its guidance.

The Control of Substances Hazardous to Health has published direct advice for different welding tasks to help make sure exposure to any welding fume released is adequately controlled. Click here to read it.

Click here to read HSE’s web pages on how to manage exposure to welding fumes.

In the new year, HSE inspectors will be visiting businesses across the country to check compliance with the law. Members subscribed to the RMI’s Health & Safety service will receive full support in ensuring compliance.

We have reissued our guidance on safe working practices when undertaking welding below:

Control of the cancer risk will require suitable engineering controls for all welding activities indoors e.g. Local Exhaust Ventilation (LEV). Extraction will also control exposure to manganese, which is present in mild steel welding fume, which can cause neurological effects similar to Parkinson’s disease.

Where LEV alone does not adequately control exposure, it should be supplemented by adequate and suitable respiratory protective equipment (RPE) to protect against the residual fume.

Appropriate RPE should be provided for welding outdoors. You should ensure welders are suitably instructed and trained in the use of these controls.

Regardless of duration, HSE will no longer accept any welding undertaken without any suitable exposure control measures in place, as there is no known level of safe exposure.


1. Make sure exposure to any welding fume released is adequately controlled using engineering controls (typically LEV).

2. Make sure suitable controls are provided for all welding activities, irrelevant of duration. This includes welding outdoors.

3. Where engineering controls alone cannot control exposure, then adequate and suitable RPE should be provided to control risk from any residual fume.

4. Make sure all engineering controls are correctly used, suitably maintained and are subject to thorough examination and test where required.

Make sure any RPE is subject to a regular maintenance management programme. An RPE programme encapsulates all the elements of RPE use. You need to ensure that your RPE is effective in protecting the wearer.

Examples of Extraction units:

Examples of Weld fume masks:

Welding fume - Do you need extraction or RPE?

This isn’t a grey area, the answer does however depend on several factors. The variation in these factors means that it is often not possible to make general statements such as “yes you do” or “no you don’t”.

The factors you will need to consider are:

  • What process you use (resistance welding, arc welding, flame or plasma cutting or gouging, automated or manual etc)
  • Where you’ll be welding and cutting (indoor, outdoor, confined or restricted space)
  • How long the welder will be creating fume
  • What filler wire/ consumables you are using (aluminium, carbon steel, stainless or hard-facing wires)
  • Are you welding or cutting through any coatings, plating or contamination
  • Is extraction suitable for the job? For many manual welding and cutting jobs it is not practical to use fixed or flexible extraction systems and you may need to use air-fed RPE to protect the welder

Some examples of circumstances where extraction is normally needed

  • Moderate to high volume MIG/MAG production welding, small or medium sized parts, welding on a bench; or in a screened off area. Welding on carbon (mild) steels and aluminium;
  • High volume production welding using TIG on stainless steels or aluminium.
  • Welding of stainless steels using MIG, MAG, Flux cored or MMA (stick welding);
  • Arc air gouging (you’ll normally need RPE + fume extraction);
  • Welding or hot cutting galvanised materials (zinc plated);
  • Welding or hot cutting materials containing cadmium or painted with lead or chromate paints. It is better to remove the coating before welding but if you can’t then effective fume extraction and RPE is needed;
  • Automated cutting (eg flame or plasma). Many cutting machines already have extraction systems built in to the cutting table;
  • Automated multi-head resistance welding machines

Some examples where you will not normally need extraction

All examples assume the work piece is free from contaminants (dirt, grease, excessive oil, etc) and surface coatings (plating, paints, etc).

  • Welding and hot cutting outdoors;
  • Flame welding (oxy/acetylene welding);
  • A few minutes every hour of manual arc welding to tacking or small repairs (except on stainless steels)
  • A few minutes every hour of flame or plasma cutting

If you need further advice you can call the IGA direct member helpline number or 0845 305 4230, or alternatively email enquiries@rmif.co.uk.