Welding, cutting and brazing hazards

This page provides information on some of the hazards present with welding, cutting and brazing operations. It is not a comprehensive hazard listing for these operations.

Specific respiratory hazards

This list identifies many of the chemicals commonly associated with welding, cutting and brazing operations. Wisconsin public employee PELs  can differ for federal PELs. When viewing the Wisconsin public employee PELs table, use the Final Rule Limits section only.

Metals in the material being worked on, or in welding rods and fluxes;

  • Aluminum (Wis. PEL) — Welding fumes from aluminum may also be a risk factor in the development of Parkinson's disease.2
  • Antimony (Wis. PEL)
  • Arsenic (Wis. PEL)
  • Beryllium (Wis. PEL Z-2) — Beryllium is sometimes used as an alloying element with copper and other base metals. Acute exposure to high concentrations of beryllium can result in chemical pneumonia. Long-term exposure can result in shortness of breath, chronic cough, and significant weight loss, accompanied by fatigue and general weakness.1
  • Cadmium (Wis. PEL) — Cadmium is used frequently as a rust-preventive coating on steel and also as an alloying element. Acute exposures to high concentrations or cadmium fumes can produce severe lung irritation, pulmonary edema, and in some cases, death. Long-term exposure to low levels of cadmium in air can result in emphysema (a disease affecting the ability of the lung to absorb oxygen) and can damage the kidneys. Cadmium is classified by OSHA, NIOSH, and EPA as a potential human carcinogen.1
  • Chromium (Wis. PEL)
  • Chromium, hexavalent (§§ 1910.1026, 1926.1126, Welding and Cr(VI))
  • Cobalt (Wis. PEL)
  • Copper (Wis. PEL)
  • Iron, Iron Oxide (Wis. PEL) — Iron is the principal alloying element in steel manufacture. During the welding process, iron oxide fumes arise from both the base metal and the electrode. The primary acute effect of this exposure is irritation of nasal passages, throat, and lungs. Although long-term exposure to iron oxide fumes may result in iron pigmentation of the lungs, most authorities agree that these iron deposits in the lung are not dangerous. 1
  • Lead (§1910.1025) — The welding and cutting of lead-bearing alloys or metals whose surfaces have been painted with lead-based paint can generate lead oxide fumes. Inhalation and ingestion of lead oxide fumes and other lead compounds will cause lead poisoning. Symptoms include metallic taste in the mouth, loss of appetite, nausea, abdominal cramps, and insomnia. In time, anemia and general weakness, chiefly in the muscles of the wrists, develop. Lead adversely affects the brain, central nervous system, circulatory system, reproductive system, kidneys, and muscles. 1
  • Manganese (Wis. PEL)
  • Mercury (Wis. PEL) — Mercury compounds are used to coat metals to prevent rust or inhibit foliage growth (marine paints). Under the intense heat of the arc or gas flame, mercury vapors will be produced. Exposure to these vapors may produce stomach pain, diarrhea, kidney damage, or respiratory failure. Long-term exposure may produce tremors, emotional instability, and hearing damage. 1
  • Molybdenum (Wis. PEL)
  • Nickel (Wis. PEL)
  • Silver (Wis. PEL)
  • Tin (Wis. PEL)
  • Titanium (as titanium dioxide, Wis. PEL)
  • Vanadium (Wis. PEL)
  • Zinc (as zinc oxide or zinc oxide fume, Wis. PEL) — Zinc is used in large quantities in the manufacture of brass, galvanized metals, and various other alloys. Inhalation of zinc oxide fumes can occur when welding or cutting on zinc-coated metals. Exposure to these fumes is known to cause metal fume fever. Symptoms of metal fume fever are very similar to those of common influenza. They include fever (rarely exceeding 102°F), chills, nausea, dryness of the throat, cough, fatigue, and general weakness and aching of the head and body. The victim may sweat profusely for a few hours, after which the body temperature begins to return to normal. The symptoms of metal fume fever have rarely, if ever, lasted beyond 24 hours. The subject can then appear to be more susceptible to the onset of this condition on Mondays or on weekdays following a holiday than they are on other days. 1

 

Other chemicals produced by the welding operation

  • Carbon dioxide (Wis. PEL)
  • Carbon monoxide (Wis. PEL) — Carbon monoxide is a gas usually formed by the incomplete combustion of various fuels. Welding and cutting may produce significant amounts of carbon monoxide. In addition, welding operations that use carbon dioxide as the inert gas shield may produce hazardous concentrations of carbon monoxide in poorly ventilated areas. This is caused by a "breakdown" of shielding gas. Carbon monoxide is odorless, colorless and tasteless and cannot be readily detected by the senses. Common symptoms of overexposure include pounding of the heart, a dull headache, flashes before the eyes, dizziness, ringing in the ears, and nausea.1
  • Fluoride (Wis. PEL) — Fluoride compounds are found in the coatings of several types of fluxes used in welding. Exposure to these fluxes may irritate the eyes, nose, and throat. Repeated exposure to high concentrations of fluorides in air over a long period may cause pulmonary edema (fluid in the lungs) and bone damage. Exposure to fluoride dusts and fumes has also produced skin rashes. 1
  • Nitrogen oxides (Wis. PEL) — The ultraviolet light of the arc can produce nitrogen oxides (NO, NO2), from the nitrogen (N) and oxygen (O2) in the air. Nitrogen oxides are produced by gas metal arc welding (GMAW or short-arc), gas tungsten arc welding (GTAW or heli-arc), and plasma arc cutting. Even greater quantities are formed if the shielding gas contains nitrogen. Nitrogen dioxide (NO2), one of the oxides formed, has the greatest health effect. This gas is irritating to the eyes, nose and throat but dangerous concentrations can be inhaled without any immediate discomfort. High concentrations can cause shortness of breath, chest pain, and fluid in the lungs (pulmonary edema).1
  • Ozone (Wis. PEL) — Ozone (O3) is produced by ultraviolet light from the welding arc. Ozone is produced in greater quantities by gas metal arc welding (GMAW or short-arc), gas tungsten arc welding (GTAW or heli-arc), and plasma arc cutting. Ozone is a highly active form of oxygen and can cause great irritation to all mucous membranes. Symptoms of ozone exposure include headache, chest pain, and dryness of the upper respiratory tract. Excessive exposure can cause fluid in the lungs (pulmonary edema). Both nitrogen dioxide and ozone are thought to have long-term effects on the lungs.1
  • Particulates (Wis. PEL)
  • Acetaldehyde (Wis. PEL)
  • Acrolein (Wis. PEL)
  • Carbonyl fluoride (Wis. PEL)
  • Chloroacetic acid
  • Formaldehyde (§§1910.1048, 1926.1148)
  • Hydrogen chloride (Wis. PEL)
  • Hydrogen fluoride (Wis. PEL)
  • Perfluoroisobutylene (ACGIH TLV)
  • Phosgene (Wis. PEL) — Phosgene is formed by decomposition of chlorinated hydrocarbon solvents by ultraviolet radiation. It reacts with moisture in the lungs to produce hydrogen chloride, which in turn destroys lung tissue. For this reason, any use of chlorinated solvents should be well away from welding operations or any operation in which ultraviolet radiation or intense heat is generated.1
  • Phosphine (Wis. PEL)

 

Decomposition products from coatings on or near the object being welded

For more information on sampling for these respiratory hazards, OSHA has a webpage with links to more specific information on sampling and analysis for these hazards.

 

Fire Prevention and Hazardous Locations

Welding, cutting and similar processes should not be conducted near flammable or combustible vapors, liquids or dusts; also, these operations should not be conducted closed tanks, drums or other closed containers that have held these materials until they are properly prepared.

The use of welding and cutting equipment can create a fire hazard; when possible, the work should be done in a designated area which is designed and constructed to minimize the hazards. Often this is not practical or possible, and the welding and cutting site should be inspected to determine the steps needed for hazard control. This includes prevention of sparks or hot metal starting fires on nearby combustible materials, or travelling though spaces or cracks in the nearby floor or walls. Campuses should have a hot work authorization program  in place for these situations. See the American Welding Society’s Safety and Health Fact Sheet No. 6: Fire and Explosion Prevention, for a summary of considerations.


 

Footnote references

  1. Welding Health Hazards. OSHA, Construction Safety and Health Outreach Program, May 1996.
  2. Are Welding Fumes an Occupational Risk Factor? American Society of Safety Engineers.

 

Page last saved: 10/15/2013


Disclaimer

This publication was prepared for environmental, health and safety staff at University of Wisconsin System campuses, to assist in finding resources and information for regulatory compliance. It is not intended to render legal advice.
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