WorkSafe is urging Victorian employers to assess their control measures for managing welding fumes as nationwide exposure standards are tightened.
Published:18 January 2024
Workers who are exposed to welding fumes can suffer a number of short and long-term health effects ranging from eye and respiratory irritation to asthma, metal fume fever, nervous system damage and lung and kidney cancer.
Since 2019, three Victorian workers have died due to disease caused by welding fumes.
Under the Occupational Health and Safety Regulations, employers are required to control the risk of hazardous substances, including airborne contaminants such as welding fumes, and ensure that workers and others in a workplace are not exposed to levels above any relevant exposure standard.
In changes taking effect today, the workplace exposure standard for welding fumes (not otherwise classified) is 1 mg/m3 as an eight-hour time weighted average, a reduction from 5 mg/m3.
The exposure standard reflects the airborne concentration of a particular substance or mixture that must not be exceeded and is the highest level that a person can usually be exposed to without adverse health effects occurring.
Depending on the processes and components used, welding fumes may contain specific substances which have their own exposure standards that could be less than 1 mg/m3.
Employers should minimise exposure to welding fumes firstly by eliminating, substituting or modifying the welding process, followed by using ventilation controls such as on torch extraction or local exhaust ventilation and lastly respiratory protection if exposure is still likely to be above the exposure standard.
Atmospheric monitoring must be carried out when employers are unsure if a relevant exposure standard is being exceeded, or where there may be a risk to health.
Health monitoring may also be required if workers are exposed to certain substances specified by the OHS Regulations that are likely to cause them harm.
The workplace exposure standards for airborne contaminants were amended following agreement from the majority of the country’s Work Health and Safety Ministers and are published by Safe Work Australia.