what are you breathing

Respiratory Hazards

Do you know what your are breathing?

  • When “good enough” isn’t enough

    According to HSE EH40/2005, it’s legally within the Workplace Exposure Limits (WEL) to inhale 11 grams of iron oxide fume every year. To illustrate - this tube contains totally 11 grams of welding fume particles.

    Working within a WEL of 5 mg/m3 for iron oxide, a full-time welder may inhale up to 11 grams of iron oxide fume every year.1

    How does a body react to that?

  • Immediate health effects of welding fumes

    • Eye, nose and throat irritation.
    • Dizziness.
    • Nausea.
    • Headaches.
    • Metal fume fever: high temperatures, chills, aches, vomiting, weakness and fatigue.

    Notably, it is more likely to occur after time away from the job (weekends, holidays, etc.).2

    Long-term health effects of welding fumes

    • Lung function abnormalities, including bronchial asthma, chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD), pneumoconiosis and other pulmonary fibrosis (chronic beryllium disease, cobalt lung), and lung cancer.3
    • Larynx and urinary tract cancers.4
    • Certain fumes can lead to stomach ulcers, kidney damage, and nervous system damage.4


    1. Based on a typical respiratory rate of 20 litres of air per minute or 2300 m3 of air per year.
    2. “Prevalence and association of welding related systemic and respiratory symptoms in welders,” Occupational & Environmental Medicine, El-Zein M., Malo J-L., Infante-Rivard C., Gautrin D., 2003;60:655-661.
    3. “Welding-Related Respiratory Diseases” article, (translated from) Medycyna Pracy (Occupational Medicine), Wittczak T., Walusiak J., Pałczyński C., 2009;60(3):201-8.
    4. “Controlling Hazardous Fumes and Gases during Welding,” OSHA Fact Sheet, U.S. Department of Labor, DSG FS-3647, March, 2013.

Fume reduction at your workplace

All welding fumes contains gas and/or particles. To reduce fume exposure levels within your facility there are a few general steps you can follow:

  1. Can the work process be modified to reduce contaminants?
  2. Can you use a welding technique that makes less fume?
  3. Ventilation and other engineering controls should be used.
  4. When step 1-3 are not feasible, or when they are not able to reduce the welders exposure below permissable levels, personal respiratory protection should be implemented.

Step 2

Continue to step 2 for a general outline to the type of personal respiratory equipment that may be appropriate for your welding applications.