Welding fumes are a complex mixture of fine particles formed during welding. Their composition depends on the materials being welded, but they can include various metallic oxides such as iron, nickel, chromium (VI), cadmium and lead.
Exposure to welding fumes can cause lung cancer, skin and respiratory irritation, kidney damage and emphysema. Exposure to UV radiation from welding can also cause ocular melanoma .
CAREX Canada estimates that approximately 333,000 Canadians are exposed to welding fumes at work .
Approximately 310 lung cancers are attributed to occupational exposure to welding fumes each year, based on 2011 cancer statistics. This amounts to 1.3% of lung cancers diagnosed annually in Canada. The cost of these cancers is approximately $308 million.
Most welding fume-related cancers occur among workers in the manufacturing sector (see pie chart).
Occupational exposure limits exist for specific constituents of welding fumes (e.g. nickel, chromium, beryllium), but there is no limit anywhere in Canada for welding fumes as a whole that adequately reflects their carcinogenic effect. To reduce the risk of lung cancer, an evidence-based occupational exposure limit for welding fumes should be developed and implemented, and until then, exposure should be kept as low as reasonably achievable. Regulations requiring ventilation for welding activities could help to reduce workers’ exposure.
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