Are you letting your technicians kill themselves?
How much does it cost you when your technicians are tucked up in bed instead of being productive in the workshop? How can this be avoided? Wear a respirator, of course.
Metal fume fever, also known as welding sickness, is a flu-like attack that can come from the inhalation of metal fumes from welding and related processes.
The health hazard can be harmful and if not properly managed, can lead to both short and long-term illnesses and health issues.
In a 2012 study, it was found that most symptoms occurred on a Monday or Tuesday with 45 per cent of cases included in the study reporting symptom manifestation on those days. Commonly referred to as Monday morning fever, this phenomenon suggests that welders build up a resistance over the course of a working week to welding fumes but lose that resistance over the weekend. While symptoms are commonly resolved in a few days, it is important for business owners and managers to ensure that employees are well trained in safety measures around welding to minimise the risk of exposure to welding fumes.
What are the symptoms?
Symptoms commonly appear several hours after exposure and can include a range of flu-like symptoms:
According to BOC gas, the metal oxides usually associated with metal fume fever are zinc and copper. In welding, it is working with copper alloys and some painted and galvanised components where these problems are most likely to occur. Metal fume fever can go undiagnosed because of the similarity of symptoms to flu-like illnesses and the short-lived nature of such symptoms.
Welding fumes and cancer
In early 2017, welding fume was reclassified as carcinogenic to humans by the International Agency for the Research on Cancer (IARC), meaning that there is a direct relationship between inhaling welding fume and contracting cancer. Australian Welding Supplies (AWS) have produced a whitepaper on this subject which you will find on the Paint and Panel website or at www.awsi.com.au.
Based on the typical respiratory rate of 20 litres of air per minute or 2,300 m3 of air per year, a welder operating within the workplace exposure standards for general welding fume (5mg/m3) in Australia, wearing no respiratory protection can inhale up to 11 grams of carconogenic welding fume per year. There is a significant disparity between workplace exposure limits for welding fume around the world and in this respect, Australia, is far behind other countries like Germany and the Netherlands.
The employer has the primary responsibility to ensure that welders, as far as reasonably practicable, are not exposed to health and safety risks while performing their job. In 2014, in an Australian first, a Victorian county court ruled that a Melbourne man's deadly lung cancer was linked to toxic welding fumes and that working as a welder had raised his risk of contracting lung cancer. This has set a precedent for future compensation claims.
Safe Work Australia says that the person conducting the business has a duty to ensure that welders are not exposed to risks to their health and safety under their WHS requirements.
Wearing protective equipment like air respirators as well as welding masks is the ideal way to prevent fume fever or welding-related cancer. If you are working on mixed materials or carbon fibre you must use both fume and dust extraction. Carbon fibre particles are highly toxic while working on mixed material can offer a high risk of explosion if dust particles aren't dealt with appropriately.
Give laces the boot
Safe Work Australia, states that foot protection worn by welders should be "non-slip, heat and fire resistant and that welders should avoid using foot protection that has the potential to capture hot sparks and metal debris", using laces as an example of what not to wear. With laces molten metal, sparks and hot debris are collected in a focused capture point. The burn risk to the welder is significantly increased especially if the boots worn are not heat or fire resistant.