Welding Risk Assessment

  • Risk Assessment
a welding worker
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Peninsula Group, HR and Health & Safety Experts

(Last updated )

In this guide, we'll discuss safety hazards, risk management, and adequate control measures for welding.

Many workplaces will use welding activity from time to time. Without welding, we wouldn't have the cars, buildings, or appliances we have today. But, welding has several Health & Safety hazards.

As an employer, you must consider the danger welding poses to workers. This will help minimise the risks of working near welding fumes. And can help your business avoid employment tribunal claims, legal costs and even reputational damage.

In this guide, we'll discuss safety hazards, risk management, and adequate control measures for welding.

What is welding?

Welding is the process of joining metal. It involves using a high heat to melt materials together and then allowing them to cool. Typically, companies that weld do so to create metal structures such as furniture and vehicles. But, a variety of industries use welding.

These industries include:

  • General construction.
  • Shipping and rail.

While welding activities are necessary for many businesses, it can have several hazards. Which is why you must manage the process effectively.

Conducting a welding risk assessment

If your employees work with welding, then you must perform regular welding risk assessments. Or hire a professional with the appropriate knowledge and experience to do it.

A risk assessment will determine what welding hazards there are in your workplace. To conduct a risk assessment, you need to examine several parts of the welding process.

These are:

  • The volume of welding work and the level of welding fume workers produce.
  • The size of the part being workers are welding.
  • What type of metal workers are welding - for example, stainless steel. 
  • What type of flux and filler metals welders are using together - for example, flux-cored wires.

Once you consider the above, you also need to look at welding safety hazards. This is so you can work out the likelihood of risks affecting your workers.

What are the welding Health & Safety hazards?

Considering welding’s Health & Safety hazards is important when conducting a work assessment. And there are several you need to be aware of.

The purpose of a risk assessment is to ensure your workers are taking the appropriate safety measures. This includes minimising the risk welding poses. And, if a risk assessment uncovers non-compliance, you can address it.

Examples of welding hazards are:

Exposure to welding fume and gases

Welding can expose workers to invisible gases such as nitrogen oxides, chromium and nickel oxides. As well as carbon monoxide - which can easily enter the lungs. Moreover, it exposes workers to welding fume.

Welding fume occurs when workers heat metals above their melting point. These metals then convert to vapour and turn into welding gases - or welding fume - which lingers in the air. Exposure can cause ill health effects.

These effects include:

  • Pneumonia: Exposure to welding fume and gases can cause a lung infection, which could then result in pneumonia. Most cases of pneumonia can be treated with antibiotics, but more severe cases can result in hospitalisation or serious illness.
  • Occupational asthma: Stainless steel and high nickel alloy welding can produce chromium and nickel oxides. Exposure to these gases can cause asthma.
  • Cancer: Welding fume is carcinogenic - which means it has the potential to cause cancer.
  • Metal fume fever: Welding can often result in flu-like symptoms, which are typically worse at the beginning of the working week. Welders refer to this as metal fume fever.
  • Throat and lung irritation: Whilst throat and lung irritation is a more mild side effect, it can still impact your workers. This type of irritation may include throat dryness, a tickly throat, or coughing and tight chests.
  • Arc-eye: Welding exposes workers to ultraviolet radiation, which causes inflammation of the cornea. This can lead to the welder developing red or watery eyes which can become painful and sensitive to light.

As part of your risk assessment, you must ensure your workers wear suitable respiratory protective equipment. For example, a respirator or other breathing equipment. This will minimise the health risks associated with welding, and ensure safety compliance.

Electric shocks

Welders are also at risk of getting an electric shock from welding activities. So you must ensure employees have the appropriate personal protective equipment (PPE).

For example, the best line of defense for welders are overalls. As they can protect their bodies from a potential electric shock.

Fire and explosions

Welders work with molten metal, which means they are at risk of fire hazards and explosions. If you do not manage the risk, it could result in severe burns and destruction of property.

You must ensure your employees are following appropriate measures to minimise this fire risk. For example, you should check they are wearing the correct PPE. And confirm whether or not they are carrying out pre-welding checks.

What are the risk control measures for welding?

The Health and Safety Executive (HSE) will no longer accept employees welding without control measures in place. So once you conduct a welding risk assessment, you need to work out what improvements you should make.

These should be reasonably practicable for your welders to perform, as well as adequately control exposure. And ensure Health & Safety compliance within your workplace.

Suitable exposure control measures include:

Pre-welding checks

Your workers must carry out pre-welding checks before they begin any welding activity. This includes checking the welding and current return cables have no damage. And whether the conductor is thick enough to carry the current safely.

Welders must check connecters are clean, undamaged and correctly rated. And must never use welding cables, plugs, clamps or electrode holders with damaged insulation. Moreover, they must also be aware of other workers in the area.

Engineering controls

You must ensure that employees use suitable engineering controls. This includes using local exhaust ventilation (LEV) and ensuring employees stay behind welding curtains.

This is because general ventilation is not an effective way to reduce welding gases. And LEV systems create less fume exposure, as they capture emissions at the source.

However, when welding outdoors, LEV is likely to be less effective, so you must ensure employees wear the proper respiratory protective equipment.

Follow Health & Safety requirements

If your employees are welding on a regular basis you must offer health surveillance. Health surveillance is a scheme of repeated health checks that can identify ill health.

The Health & Safety Executive (HSE) asks that you offer health surveillance when there are health hazards - even after you put measures in place. You must also hire an occupational health professional to perform them.

Workers must also wear the appropriate PPE. This includes essential gear such as overalls, masks, gloves and goggles, which will help minimise the safety hazards of this work activity.

Get expert advice from Peninsula UK

Conducting a risk assessment helps you examine the welding processes in your workplace. As well as ensuring that you and your welders have controlled the residual risk.

You must conduct regular risk assessments into your business's welding activities. As well as ensuring your employees carry out their work safely, and without any risks to their health. Otherwise, you could face Health & Safety claims, legal costs, and even reputational damage.

Our teams provide 24/7 Health & Safety advice which is available 365 days a year. We take care of everything when you work with our Health & Safety experts.

Want to find out more? Contact us on 0800 028 2420 and book a free consultation with a Health & Safety consultant today.

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