HSE alert: mild steel welding cancer risk

HSE announces enforcement action change based on new cancer evidence

The regulator has issued Safety Alert STSU1 – 2019 – Change in Enforcement Expectations for Mild Steel Welding Fume based on “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.

The Workplace Health Expert Committee has endorsed the reclassification of mild steel welding fume as a human carcinogen.

HSE has announced that in the light of this evidence general ventilation does not achieve the necessary control:“With immediate effect, there is a strengthening of HSE’s enforcement expectation for all welding fume, including mild steel welding; because general ventilation does not achieve the necessary control.

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.

Risk assessments should reflect the change in the expected control measures.”

Actions required

The regulator has set out the action required which we have summarised below.

See the Alert for full details:

  1. Engineering Control – of welding fume released, typically LEV;
  2. Duration and Location – suitable controls for all welding activities e.g. any duration or outdoors;
  3. Residual Fume – provide RPE when engineering controls alone cannot control exposure;
  4. Use and Maintenance – use, maintain and thoroughly examine all engineering controls;
  5. RPE Programme – establish and operate a programme to ensure RPE is effective.