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Archive Notice - OSHA Archive

NOTICE: This is an OSHA Archive Document, and no longer represents OSHA Policy. It is presented here as historical content, for research and review purposes only.

Welding, Cutting and Brazing
Welding, cutting, and brazing are hazardous activities which pose a unique combination of both safety and health risks to over 500,000 workers in a wide variety of industries. The risk from fatal injuries alone is more than four deaths per thousand workers over a working lifetime. OSHA is developing an action plan which will reduce worker exposures to these hazards but is not initiating rulemaking at this time.

Hazard Description

An estimated 562,000 employees are at risk for exposure to chemical and physical hazards of welding, cutting and brazing.
  • Fifty-eight deaths from welding and cutting incidents, including explosions, electrocutions, asphyxiation, falls and crushing injuries were reported by the Bureau of Labor Statistics in 1993 (1). This risk of fatal injury is more than four per thousand workers over a working lifetime.
  • For the construction industry, welders flash (burn to the eyes) accounts for 5.6% of all construction eye injuries (2).
  • In Alberta Canada, 21% of workers compensation claims for eye injuries were to welders (3).

There are numerous health hazards associated with exposure to fumes, gases and ionizing radiation formed or released during welding, cutting and brazing, including heavy metal poisoning, lung cancer, metal fume fever, flash burns, and others (4, 5, 6). These risks vary, depending upon the type of welding materials and welding surfaces.
  • NIOSH has reported that "excesses in morbidity and mortality among welders appear to exist even when exposures have been reported to be below current OSHA PELs for the many individual components of welding emissions " (7).
Current Status

OSHA's current standards for welding, cutting and brazing in general industry and construction are based on the 1967 American National Standards Institute (ANSI) standard Z49.1. While ANSI Z49.1 has been updated several times since 1967, the OSHA welding standards in subpart Q of part 1910 have not been updated to keep pace.

NIOSH published a Criteria Document, "NIOSH Criteria for a Recommended Standard: Welding, Brazing, and Thermal Cutting," in 1988, recommending that "exposures to all welding emissions be reduced to the lowest feasible concentrations using state-of-the-art engineering controls and work practices" (7). NIOSH has also recommended exposure limits for specific chemical and physical agents associated with welding.

The National Advisory Committee on Occupational Safety and Health (NACOSH) recommended that this issue be given high priority.

The safety and health hazards of welding, cutting and brazing meet several of the criteria for designation as an OSHA priority. There is a large number of workers exposed to unique combinations of serious physical and chemical hazards. The level of risk for fatal injury is moderately high. The quality of information on risk is good, and there is a considerable amount known about control technology to reduce risk.
  1. Bureau of Labor Statistics, National Census of Fatal Occupational Injuries, 1993, Washington, D.C., U.S. Department of Labor.
  2. Bureau of Labor Statistics, Supplementary Data System, 1987; Washington, D.C., U.S. Department of Labor.
  3. Riesal MR, et al.; Welder Eye Injuries; JOM; 31(12):1003-1006; 1989.
  4. Danielsen TE, et al.; Incidence of Cancer among Welders of Mild Steel and other Shipyard Workers; British Jour Ind Med; 50(12):1097-1103; 1993.
  5. Becker N, et al.; Risk of Cancer for Arc Welders in the Federal Republic of Germany: Results of a Second Follow Up (1983-8); British Jour Ind Med; 48(10):675-683;1991.
  6. Sferlazza SJ, Beckett WS; The Respiratory Health of Welders;American Review of Respiratory Disease; 143(5):1134-1148; 1991.
  7. NIOSH Publication 88-110 1988. Criteria for a recommended standard; Welding, Brazing and Thermal Cutting.

NOTICE: This is an OSHA Archive Document, and no longer represents OSHA Policy. It is presented here as historical content, for research and review purposes only.
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