Many workers who use respiratory protection when welding may be less protected than they think

– Protective equipment that is used incorrectly increases the risk of health problems and serious illness, says department director Stig Magnar Løvås in the Norwegian Labor Inspection Authority.

Previously published at the Norwegian Labor Inspection Authority

In 2022, the Norwegian Labor Inspection Authority carried out 288 inspections at businesses that work with various forms of welding. The purpose of the inspections was to help reduce health hazards at work.

If you breathe in the fumes and gas produced during welding, the risk of respiratory irritation, asthma, COPD and lung cancer increases.

Many improvement points uncovered

During last year’s inspection of businesses that carry out welding operations, the Norwegian Labor Inspection Authority found breaches of the regulations in eight out of ten (83 per cent) inspections. On average, the businesses with violations received four reactions each.

Several businesses were required to better protect their employees from the health-hazardous substances that arise during welding.

Four out of ten businesses had not assessed risk conditions that could lead to health damage among employees sufficiently when planning hot work or when purchasing equipment.
Three out of ten businesses did not have good enough measures to remove or reduce the health risk when welding.
Three out of ten businesses had not provided sufficient training in working methods, work equipment and personal protective equipment.

Welding at many workplaces

Welding takes place in a number of businesses, and by far more than those who are trained welders. In industry, there are many work processes that require welding, and also in, for example, construction, agriculture, farming and the fishing industry. For many, welding is work they do sporadically, for example when work equipment or machines need to be repaired.

The workers must be protected

Employers must protect employees from health damage when welding. The risk varies with method and material. The Norwegian Labor Inspection Authority and other institutes provide guidance. Businesses require a substance index for chemicals in hot work. This index informs about all potential dangers.

Use proper respiratory protection

In welding areas, mechanical ventilation is essential to remove hazardous welding fumes. Respiratory protection, either filtering or air-supplied, is also important, especially in confined spaces or during special welding operations. Most people who do not primarily weld use filtering respirators, but air-supplied respirators provide better protection when working hot. Employers must ensure proper respiratory protection, examine supplier information and provide appropriate training. The respiratory protection must be adapted to the individual worker, and correct use must be taught.

False security when used incorrectly

During an inspection, the Norwegian Occupational Safety and Health Authority came across several businesses that were using respiratory protection incorrectly. For example, many were not aware that the motor-assisted respirators they used did not have a gas filter along with the particle filter.

Filters must be changed frequently

During inspections, the Norwegian Occupational Safety and Health Authority also found examples of the protective equipment that is supposed to protect workers from dangerous dust and gases not being well maintained. The filters were simply used up.

– Filters for respiratory protection have a limited lifespan, and must be replaced regularly, says Løvås.

– The filters can be changed after a certain number of hours in use or at fixed time intervals, for example every two weeks. Routines for changing filters must be seen in connection with the results of the mapping and risk assessment that must be carried out.

Both eyes and lungs must be protected

The Norwegian Occupational Safety and Health Administration found that some people had better routines to protect their eyes than their lungs during welding.

– If you get welding flashes, it typically takes 4-6 hours after the exposure before you get symptoms such as itching, watery eyes, pain and that the eyes cannot tolerate light. If you breathe in dangerous smoke or gases, on the other hand, some symptoms can also be felt quickly. But it can also take several years before the consequences of the exposure come in the form of serious health problems such as lung cancer, says Stig Magnar Løvås.