In light of recent regulatory changes regarding welding fume exposure, AES offers this guide to help businesses navigate the new standards. Ensuring workplace safety by understanding and mitigating welding fume exposure is crucial. This guide provides insights into the latest guidelines and solutions to help businesses protect their workers.

Understanding Welding Fumes

What are Welding Fumes?

Welding fumes are a complex mixture of hazardous chemicals produced during welding. Their composition varies based on factors such as the welding method, metals involved, shielding gases, welding rod composition, and surface contaminants. These fumes can include harmful gases like carbon monoxide, nitrogen dioxide, and ozone, as well as airborne particulates including metal fumes like manganese and hexavalent chromium. The International Agency for Research on Cancer (IARC) classifies welding fumes as Group 1 carcinogens due to their established link to cancer in humans.

Workplace Exposure Standards (WES)

The Workplace Exposure Standard (WES) for welding fumes has been significantly reduced from 5 mg/m³ to 1 mg/m³. This reduction aims to enhance worker protection due to growing awareness of the adverse health effects associated with welding fume exposure, including the heightened risk of lung cancer. By lowering the WES, Australia’s regulatory bodies align with evolving scientific evidence and international standards to better safeguard worker health and wellbeing.

Assessing Risks and Compliance

Who is at Risk?

Workers directly engaged in welding activities face primary exposure risks. However, other individuals within the workplace may also encounter welding fumes, therefore, all Persons Conducting a Business or Undertaking (PCBUs) that involves welding processes are required to conduct a comprehensive risk assessment of their operations and monitor welding fumes and exposure.

Compliance with WES

Workers directly involved in welding activities face primary exposure risks, but others in the workplace can also be exposed to welding fumes. All Persons Conducting a Business or Undertaking (PCBUs) that involve welding processes must conduct comprehensive risk assessments and monitor welding fume exposure.

Adhering to WES to ensure compliance, PCBUs must determine the composition of welding fumes in their workplaces and ensure that exposure remains below both the total welding fumes WES and the individual component WES.

Frequency of Testing

PCBUs are responsible for ensuring that workers are not exposed to hazardous levels of welding fumes. The frequency of assessing welding fume exposure depends on regulatory requirements, the nature of the work, and any changes in conditions that could affect exposure levels. Key considerations include:

  1. Regulatory Requirements: Contact the WHS Regulator  for your region to understand local regulations for frequency of monitoring and assessment.
  2. Risk Assessment: Identify potential hazards associated with welding processes and determine monitoring frequency based on factors like the type and duration of welding activities, materials being welded, ventilation systems, and control measures.
  3. Workplace Changes: Reassess welding fume exposure whenever there are changes in welding processes, equipment, materials, or workplace layout.
  4. Health Surveillance: Implement health surveillance programs to monitor workers’ health over time, identifying early signs of health effects related to welding fume exposure and informing preventive measures.

Implementing Control Measures

PCBUs must proactively minimise exposure risks by identifying hazardous components, conducting risk assessments, reviewing control measures, providing appropriate Personal Protective Equipment (PPE), and facilitating worker education and consultation.

Key Considerations for Workers

Workers play a crucial role in maintaining a safe work environment. Welding workers must understand the health implications of welding fume exposure and any changes in control measures. Encouraging open communication between PCBUs, workers, and health and safety representatives fosters a collective effort to address exposure risks effectively.

Welding Fume Monitoring Tools

Here is a chart provided by our partners SKC to show what’s available for monitoring welding fumes, you can download the document here

Contact your local AES rep to purchase any of the above equipment, or visit our Pocket Pump Touch, AirChek Touch product pages.

For more information about managing the risk associated with welding, see the model Code of Practice: Welding processes.


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