The Health and Safety Executive (HSE) has written to fabricated metal businesses across the UK to check that they are managing the risks of welding fumes and metalworking fluids.
Inspectors will be checking that businesses are complying with guidance issued and managing the risk of respiratory diseases. Your business may well receive a letter from HSE and if it does you should respond as soon as possible and by 24 March 2021 at the latest.
Inspectors will then be visiting fabricated metal businesses across the UK between May and September 2021 to ensure duty holders are aware of the hazards their activities present, have assessed the risk, planned their work accordingly and are provided adequate control measures which protect their workers’ health.
Specifically, employers will be assessed as to whether they are controlling the risks associated with welding fumes and metalworking fluids.
It should be realised that it is your duty as an employer to provide a safe working environment and in this regard to ensure that exposure is reduced to the minimum that is practicably achievable – not just to reduce to the limit. There is no safe limit where welding fumes are concerned.
If your activities or tasks produce dusts or any fine particles, fumes, or mists, then NOW would be a good time to review your risk assessments and ensure you are following the hierarchy of control:
The first responsibility is to ensure that where possible employers eliminate risk. Are your activities and tasks designed to ensure that the way the work is carried out; or the substances used during that work process; or the byproduct(s) of a work process; present no hazard? If not, then can they be redesigned?
Where materials being used, or processes carried out are substituted or altered to become less hazardous to the user / worker or to others who could be affected by the activities. Care should be taken to ensure the alternative is safer than the original. This can also include substances that are environmentally hazardous, and which could affect the general populace at large.
Where work equipment or other measures are put in place to reduce risk of injury, such as local exhaust ventilation (LEV), which can be used to control risks from dust, fume, or mists. If possible, remove the hazard from operators by methods such as enclosure, which could be as simple as ensuring the hood of the LEV is suited to the task and gathers any harmful substances prior to them getting into the breathing area of employees. Give priority to measures which protect collectively over individual measures.
These are all about identifying and then implementing procedures to ensure work safety. This could be by introducing job rotation and thereby reducing the time workers are exposed to hazards, or by prohibiting the use of mobile phones in hazardous areas to reduce the risk of distraction; by increasing safety signage, or just by carrying out risk assessment and informing employees of the significant findings.
Personal protective clothes and equipment:
Only after all the previous measures have been tried and found ineffective in controlling risks to a reasonably practicable level, must personal protective equipment (PPE) be issued and used. For example, where you cannot eliminate the risk of fume creation due to welding operations, suitable PPE should be selected and (where applicable) face-fitted for the person who uses it. Workers must be trained to manage the hazard as well as the function and safe use of the provided PPE.