Welders in Illinois and around the country should be concerned about toxic smoke and fumes as well as the fire risks associated with their jobs, according to the Occupational Safety and Health Administration. While a single stray spark can cause a fire, smoke and fumes containing metals like arsenic and lead and noxious gases such as hydrogen fluoride have been associated with several types of cancer and other catastrophic health issues.
Even short-term exposure to toxic welding fumes can lead to nausea and dizziness, and workers who inhale smoke and fumes containing toxic substances for prolonged periods have been known to develop cancer of the larynx, lung and urinary tract. Nervous system and kidney damage have also been linked to welding fumes. Welding in confined spaces is particularly dangerous for workers as asphyxiant gases like helium, nitrogen and argon pose a significant risk of suffocation to workers who lack adequate respiratory equipment.
OSHA urges employers to take steps to ensure that all workers who enter areas where welding is performed are aware of the dangers. Employers are also encouraged to add information about welding fumes to their training materials. The safety agency recommends regular inspections of ventilation systems and exhaust fans and the issuing of breathing equipment to welders who work in poorly ventilated areas. OSHA also reminds workers and employers that these fumes may be dangerous even when welders are working outdoors.
Claims for workers’ compensation benefits related to serious illnesses caused by toxic substances in the workplace can be very costly for employers and insurance companies. However, the nexus between the illness and working conditions can be difficult to prove, and employers will often dispute the claim. Ill workers may thus want to have the assistance of counsel at a subsequent appeals hearing.