Safety Services


Welding fumes

Exposure to any welding fume, including mild steel welding fume, can cause lung cancer and maybe kidney cancer.

Why this substance is hazardous

The specific hazards depend on what is being welded and the method of welding being used.  Since February 2019 (HSE safety alert No STSU1 -2019) it has been accepted in the UK that there is sufficient evidence that exposure to any welding fume, including mild steel welding fume, can cause lung cancer and there is limited evidence to link inhalation of the fumes to kidney cancer.​

In addition to this, breathing in different types of welding fumes has been linked to: 

  • Occupational asthma - not a proven link for all but stainless steel releases chromium oxide and nickel oxide which are proven to cause workplace asthma​
  • Metal fume fever- flu-like symptoms that are only present during the working days – Usually no lasting damage or symptoms.​
  • Irritation of the throat and lungs – Associated with TIG ( the production of ozone) and welding that produces nitrous oxides. Extreme exposure can cause pulmonary oedema (fluid on the lungs)​
  • Pneumonia – although this is not a direct link, there is research that shows that breathing welding fume can cause a temporary reduction in lung capacity and other lung function which may be a cause for between 40-50 welders being hospitalised each year and the death of 2 welders each year.​


Welding is a fabrication or sculptural process that joins materials, usually metals or thermoplastics, by using high heat to melt the parts together and allowing them to cool causing fusion. Welding is distinct from lower temperature metal-joining techniques such as brazing and soldering, which do not melt the base metal.​

Recommended control measures​

  • Plan the work – User should place the item and themselves so they do not place their head in the plume / fumes ​
  • Carry out the work in a well-ventilated area – consider the other items in the area and if the plume is not dispersed easily local exhaust  ventilation (LEV)should be used​
  • The work is often sporadic and can vary depending on the person's role and the project. However, due to the nature of the health effects, careful consideration should be given to sharing the work and ensuring there is sufficient recovery time for the individual ​
  • Provide RPE – After all other control measures are in place respiratory protective equipment (RPE) will still be required. Masks will need to be fitted for the individual and are not the same as basic welding masks that protect the eyesight from arc eye / welder flash and the skin from the radiant heat

Health surveillance ​

If this a regular part of someone's job description, low-level lung function health surveillance may be a reasonable precaution.

Chemical safety library

> Read more about control measures for chemicals in our chemical safety library

Last updated: Thursday, June 24, 2021