The hazards tied to welding are widely recognized, with numerous solutions readily available to maximize safety during this process. However, what about those employees who aren’t welders but work nearby? Individuals working in an environment where welding activities are taking place should also be protected.

Employees in close proximity to welding operations could inadvertently inhale harmful fumes, get hurt by flying sparks or droplets of molten metal, and potentially be exposed to electrical hazards, noise, and infrared, visible, and ultraviolet radiation.

In fact, welding fumes can impact a large perimeter if not properly managed. In this blog post, we’ll dissect the risks for individuals working alongside welders and suggest ways to mitigate or even eliminate these risks.

Chemical Hazards for Welders and Workers Around

As expected, one primary risk is the inhalation of toxic fumes. Welding fumes ascend and circulate in a workspace. As they cool, they descend and settle on floors, furniture, etc., potentially affecting everyone in the vicinity.

Permissible Exposure Limits for Welders and Co-workers

In the US, the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) has set a Permissible Exposure Limit (PEL) for welding fumes at 5 mg/m3. This refers to the average concentration of a given substance over an 8-hour work period within a worker’s breathing zone. Some substances found in welding fumes have additional individual PELs. For instance, Hexavalent Chromium has a PEL of 5 μg/m3 as an 8-hour time-weighted average. An analysis of the components involved in the welding process will be required to establish which substances should be monitored.

The American Conference of Governmental Industrial Hygienists (ACGIH) recommends a threshold limit value of 0.02 mg/m3 for manganese oxide within the welder’s breathing zone to prevent long-term neurological effects. For more information, please refer to our post about the dangers of manganese fumes.

Each province or territory in Canada has its own exposure limit, generally ranging between 3 and 10 mg/m3. Some regions differentiate between inhalable and respirable particles. Furthermore, several toxic elements found in welding fumes (such as chromium, zinc, cadmium, lead, ozone, nitrogen oxides, or nickel) also have set concentration limits.

Here are the exposure limits for welding fumes in each Province and Territory in Canada.

  • TWA: Time-Weighted Average over 8 hours
  • STEL: Short-Term Exposure Limit (maximum for 15 minutes, no more than four times per day with at least 60 minutes in between)
  • C: Ceiling (must never be exceeded)
  • (i): Inhalable particles (smaller than 100 µm)
  • (r): Respirable particles (smaller than 4 µm)
  • ALARA: As low as reasonably achievable
BC 10mg/m3(i)*
3 mg/m3(r)*
NB 10mg/m3(i)*
NL 10mg/m3(i)*
3 mg/m3(r)*
QC5mg/m315mg/m3 **25mg/m3
* Based on ACGIH recommendations.
** For 30 minutes during a workday.



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Health Risks from Inhalation of Welding Fumes

OSHA states that inhaling welding fumes could lead to the following health issues:

  • Irritation of the eyes, nose, and throat
  • Muscle and joint pain
  • Dizziness and nausea
  • Breathing problems that could result in suffocation or asphyxiation
  • Metal fume fever
  • Lung damage and various types of cancer
  • Stomach ulcers
  • Kidney damage
  • Damage to the nervous system

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) have also conducted research on the effect of inhaling manganese. Long-term exposure to manganese fume can lead to Parkinson-like symptoms, fertility issues, mood and short-term memory changes, slower reaction times, and impaired hand-eye coordination.

According to a publication from the International Agency for Research on Cancer (IARC) which has been validated by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), welding fumes are classified as carcinogenic to humans (Group 1).

In Canada, the CNESST additionally lists these potential health risks:

  • Chest pain
  • Asthma
  • Bleeding
  • Dermatitis or eczema
  • Kidney disease
  • Bone and joint disorders
  • Siderosis (iron oxide in lung tissue after inhalation)
  • Stannosis (tin oxide in lung tissue after inhalation)
  • Anthracosis (poisoning after inhalation of carbon dust)
  • Berylliosis (poisoning after inhalation of beryllium dust)
  • Accumulation of fluid in the lungs

Learn more about the dangers and toxicity of welding fumes.

How to prevent workers from breathing welding fumes

The optimal way to protect workers in the vicinity of welding operations is to ensure the protection of the welders themselves. If the concentration of welding fumes is kept below the Permissible Exposure Limit (PEL) within the welder’s breathing space, it can almost certainly ensure a safe environment for all factory employees.

To make this possible, equip welders with devices specifically designed for welding fume extraction such as MIG welding fume extraction guns, fume extraction arms, or extraction nozzles.

Maintaining sufficient ventilation in the factory is essential for preserving air quality. Welding in a poorly ventilated area will increase potential risks. If air quality standards are not met despite appropriate extraction and ventilation systems, employers are obliged to supply workers with Personal Protective Equipment (PPE), such as masks.

If you are worried about breathing welding fumes and want to know what to do, read our blog post: What to Do if you Inhale Welding Fumes?

Additional risks when working close to welders

Sparks and molten metal droplets

While welding, it is common for sparks and molten metal droplets to scatter. These can cause burns or injuries, especially if they reach unprotected eyes.

Welders are generally well protected against such hazards as they wear helmets, jackets, and gloves. However, their coworkers might not. Therefore, it’s recommended that welding operations take place behind protective screens. If that’s not possible, it’s crucial to ensure only those wearing appropriate personal protective gear are permitted in the welding area.

Electrical risks

Like any electrical operation, welding carries the risk of electric shock. Effects can range from pain, burns, muscle contractions, difficulty in breathing, to atrial fibrillation.

The optimal way to protect workers is to restrict the welding stations to welders only, reducing the risk of untrained individuals manipulating the equipment or the parts to be welded. If working near a welder, maintain a safe distance and refrain from touching any equipment or components being welded.


The noise generated by welding, plasma cutting, grinding, hammering, and fume extractors can be substantial. As a result, workers near these operations are often exposed to occupational noise levels that require mitigation. Chronic exposure to such noise can lead to stress, fatigue, reduced alertness, irritability, tinnitus, and even hearing loss.

Three strategies to protect workers are:

  • Minimize the noise at its source: switch off any idle equipment (for example, use fume extractors with automatic start/stop), ensure regular maintenance of all machines, etc.
  • Isolate noisy machines: using silencers, sound-absorbing screens, relocating the equipment to less populated areas, etc.
  • Protect workers: restructure work shifts or factory layout to minimize people’s exposure to loud processes, provide PPE and ensure its proper usage, etc.

Infrared, visible, and ultraviolet radiation

Welding arcs and flames emit intense visible, ultraviolet, and infrared radiation. Exposure to these can lead to conditions such as “arc flashes,” headaches, cataracts, bloodshot eyes, light sensitivity, and photo phobia. Moreover, UV radiation can burn unprotected skin, and prolonged exposure can lead to skin cancer.

Welders are usually protected by their helmet, jacket, and gloves, but their colleagues may not be. It’s best if welding operations take place behind screens that stop radiation. If not feasible, precautions should be taken to ensure that no worker can accidentally view the welding arc or remain in the area without adequate protection for their eyes and skin.

Any Questions?

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