Are you a welder, or a business that welds? You may be aware that the Health and Safety Executive (HSE) recently issued a safety alert relating to new scientific evidence that links welding fumes to lung cancer, and possibly kidney cancer.

Here we take a look at the HSE safety alert and where to go for more information and support.

What does the HSE safety alert say about fume extraction?

The HSE reports new scientific evidence from the International Agency for Research on Cancer that exposure to mild steel welding fume can in humans cause lung cancer, and potentially kidney cancer.

As a result, The Workplace Health Expert Committee has endorsed the reclassification of mild steel welding fume as a human carcinogen.

In response, the HSE has strengthened its enforcement expectations for all welding fume, including mild steel welding, because general ventilation does not achieve the necessary control.

What does it mean for you?

The HSE alert states that all businesses undertaking welding need to ensure suitable engineering controls are in place, and used correctly, to manage welding fume.

Importantly, the organisation will no longer accept natural ventilation as a control mechanism, either indoors, or outside.

Where engineering controls (typically LEV) are not adequate to control all fume exposure, respiratory protective equipment (RPE) should be used—and it should also be used outdoors.

Where RPE is used, it should be fitted correctly and welders suitably trained in its use. Welding helmets with integrated powered respirators are usually loose fitting face pieces and do not need a face fit test but do need to be regularly examined and checked.
Additionally, risk assessments should be modified to reflect the changes in the control measures implemented as a result of the HSE guidance.

Nigel Anderson, Health and Environment Manager for BOC said: “The health of our customers and employees at work is of utmost importance to BOC. We’re currently reviewing the new guidance from the HSE to determine its impact, but we would advise anyone working within a welding environment to take it very seriously and refer to the HSE for guidance.”

Where can you go for more information?

You can read the detail of the safety alert on the HSE’s website here: 

Visit BOC’s online shop for our range of respiratory protective equipment.

Breathe Freely are working in partnership with a panel of experts from industry, consultancies, academia and the HSE have launched a Breathe Welding Fume Control Selector Tool:


*BOC accepts no liability for the incorrect choice of RPE and LEV. A correct risk assessment should be carried out to ensure suitable products are selected for the environment and user. Details regarding performance and limitations of products are set out on the packaging and/or user instructions.