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Helping keep you safe from common welding respiratory hazards

Updated scientific evidence related to welding respiratory hazards

The respiratory hazards potentially generated during metal working are real. The plume created during welding is a complex mixture of various metal fumes and gases. Short-term exposures to these contaminants may result in eye, nose and throat irritation, dizziness and nausea or metal fume fever. Prolonged exposure to these hazards has also been associated with different types of cancers and other serious health effects.

A recent study out of the United Kingdom has suggested there is new scientific evidence that all exposures of welding fume, including mild steel welding fume, can cause lung and other types of cancers. In Canada, there may be a lowering of existing occupational exposure limits for welding fume as well as more enforcement of those limits.

Common contaminants found in welding fumes

The following chart lists some common contaminants found in welding fumes:

Contaminant in welding plume

Most commonly associated potential health effects

Manganese/steel alloys

Metal fume fever. Chronic exposure has been associated with manganism, with potential symptoms including weakness/lethargy, speech disturbances, paralysis (mask-like face, tremors) and psychological disturbance.


Hexavalent chromium

Lung cancer, irritation or damage to eyes, nose, throat, lungs and skin.

Iron oxide

Irritation of nose and lungs; exposure has been associated with siderosis and potentially lung cancer. 


Respiratory irritation.

Zinc oxides

Metal fume fever.

Cadmium oxide

Suspected carcinogen that has been associated with respiratory irritation, kidney and lung damage.


Central nervous system effects, systemic poisoning.


Irritation of eyes, nose and throat; has been associated with dermatitis and/or cancer.


Respiratory irritation, lung congestion, bronchitis, headache, dry throat.


Respiratory and eye irritation; has been associated with kidney and other organ damage.

Although the above contaminants have been associated with potentially dangerous health effects, three common contaminants found in most welding fumes are manganese, hexavalent chromium and iron oxide.

How to protect workers from common welding respiratory hazards

Awareness of welding inhalation hazards is extremely important and informs how to protect workers from them. The first step in protecting workers from common welding hazards is to reduce exposure by engineering controls. This can include local exhaust ventilation (fume extraction) or area ventilation in the workplace to capture the welding fumes and gases.

Welding hazards can also be reduced by substituting the welding rod/wire with another metal or by using less manganese in the rod to reduce worker exposure.

When engineering or administrative controls are not able to maintain exposures below the applicable exposure limit, respiratory protection is required. A particulate filter is used to filter the metal fumes. The addition of a cartridge may also be required in certain circumstances.

Learn more about the hazards associated with manganese and hexavalent chromium and download the whitepapers and infographics for even more information.

For questions on how you can help protect yourself from the welding hazards in your environment, please contact one of the members of our welding team.

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