Airborne particles, grinding swarf, radiation, heat, noise, vibration, space restrictions, and electrical shock are just a few examples of hazards that the welders and grinders may be exposed to whether welding outside or in confined spaces while on a construction site. Let’s shed some light on these hazards, specifically inhalation of particles including metal/welding fume, harmful noise exposure as well as potential eye and face injuries. We’ll also talk about what personal protective equipment (PPE) should be considered given these welding applications within the construction industry.
What are Some Respiratory Hazards Should Welders Be Aware of on a Construction Site?
Welding and grinding applications can produce a wide variety of airborne contaminants, which if inhaled in significant quantities may lead to a number of acute and chronic health effects. Welding produces metal fumes and gases and/or vapors. Welding fume is an extremely small particle consisting mainly of metal oxides. The types of metal oxides present depend on the base metal and filler metal used. Certain gases and vapors can also be present depending on the type of welding and the presence of coatings or contaminants.
The emissions from a welding process are commonly referred to as the welding plume. The plume consists mostly of metal and metal oxide particles and can include:
- Chromium (including hexavalent chromium Cr VI)
- Silicon dioxide
- and others.
These or other gases and vapors may also be present whether welding outside or within a confined space.
Examples of common and immediate symptoms, when overexposed to welding fume, are eye and skin
irritation, nausea, headache, dizziness, and metal fume fever. Chronic overexposures may affect the
respiratory system and central nervous system. These adverse health effects may take months or even years to develop. Examples of chronic health effects include skin ulcers, occupational asthma, pneumoconiosis, CPD, cancer, and neurological effects.i
Welding and grinding activities will typically require some form of engineering control, such as
ventilation, to reduce airborne exposures. Local exhaust ventilation is often the most effective
engineering control for welding and grinding exposures. It’s important to remember that welding fumes
affect not just the welder, but bystanders as well. Welding operations impact welder helpers, employees
completing fire watches or any other adjacent workers. As health and safety should be the top priority for all of these stakeholders, each should be considered in the welding exposure assessment plan.
When other controls are not effective or feasible, or when implementing other controls, respiratory
protection can be used to help reduce worker exposure. A wide variety of respirator options are available for welding and grinding including filtering facepiece respirators, half and full facepiece elastomeric respirators, powered air purifying respirators, and supplied air respirator systems. There are also integrated solutions available that feature powered and supplied air respirator systems with headtops that combine welding and grinding protection. This solution allows workers to weld and grind without changing PPE and can help with productivity, comfort, PPE standardization, and compliance. Loose fitting welding head tops do not require, fit testing and can accommodate limited facial hair.
If respiratory protection is used to reduce these exposures, it is imperative that the employer implements a robust and effective respiratory protection program. During 2020, deficiencies with a respiratory protection program was the third most frequently cited workplace violation in the U.S.ii We can help you with your program.
What Noise Hazards Should Welders Consider While on a Construction Site?
Welders have the highest prevalence of noise-induced hearing impairment among construction trades.iii Pulsed and high-current welding processes, in addition to other sources, can lead to excessive noise exposure during welding operations. Activities such as carbon arc welding and gouging, TIG (pulsed), grinding, and sanding may all lead to hazardous noise levels on a construction site.iv
Unlike many other workplace injuries or illnesses, the symptoms of overexposure to noise are often
unnoticed until significant exposure has occurred and permanent damage to the hearing system has been
done. There is no blood or visible damage and seldom any pain to warn people that there is a problem. In
addition, damage to the hearing system occurs slowly over time and the early warning signs are easy to miss.
The common noise levels found during metalworking applications, including welding and grinding are:
- Welding/MMA 85 – 95dBA
- Welding/MIG 95 – 102dBA
- Arc air gouging 104 – 125dBA
- Grinding 85 – 109dBA
Where hearing protection is chosen as a control measure, there is a broad range of products to consider. Hearing protection covers a wide range of style, design, and functionality. Hearing protectors range from simple disposable foam plugs to the more sophisticated communication headsets with built-in Bluetooth functionality for two-way communication.
Some earmuffs can be attached to industrial safety helmets or the rigid headtop of a powered and supplied air respirator system while others can be worn over-the-head or behind the head.
Are You Protecting Welders on Construction Sites From these Potential Eye and Face Hazards?
Eye and face hazards in welding and grinding applications on a construction site are also a critical concern. Electric arc welding can lead to unique hazards for workers’ eyes, faces and respiratory systems. Some welding and cutting work create ultraviolet/infrared (UV/IR) radiation and intense visible light, which may lead to permanent eye damage. What’s more, welding spatter and grinding particles can cause physical eye damage. The source of these hazards can be ultraviolet, visible, and infrared radiation from the welding arc, contact with solid, liquid, or gaseous materials and foreign bodies, and mechanical impact from high-velocity particles to the eyes and face.
Burns on the retina or cornea are some of the most common eye injuries associated with welding work. Additionally, ‘arc-eye’ can occur when a worker’s eyes are exposed to UV radiation. These injuries typically occur when a worker is not wearing proper eye protection, or their welding helmet is in the up position as they accidentally strike an arc. Years of overexposure to these hazards can lead to retinal degeneration, cataracts, and skin cancer. These optical radiation injuries are preventable when the proper protection is worn and used accordingly. As the intensity of light exposure varies with welding application, it is critical to choose welding PPE that provides the appropriate level of protection.
According to the Oxford Handbook of Occupational Health (2nd Edition), potential short-term symptoms from intense visible radiation are spot blindness, bloodshot eyes, and headaches. Red eyes or bloodshot eyes occur when the blood vessels on the surface of the eye expand. Sometimes a blood vessel can leak and cause bleeding on the surface of the eye and leave a red patch.
These health effects from visible light overexposure take some time to happen – normally seconds to hours, and damage can be immediate and accumulative. Long-term overexposure may lead to problems with the macula, impaired vision at night, and permanent retina damage.vi
Overexposure to infrared radiation can also cause problems. Adverse health effects can include dry eyes, tearing eyes, and headaches. Prolonged exposure to infrared radiation can heat the lens of the eye and produce cataracts over the long term. Health effects from infrared radiation can take a long time to happen – usually years. Damage is accumulative and can lead to retinal damage and cataracts.vii
Foreign body eye injuries are also a concern during welding and grinding activities. Imagine you have been working hard for an hour grinding in a hot workplace. You take off your faceshield and wipe your brow on the sleeve of your shirt – which just happens to be covered in metal and abrasive particles– and these are accidentally rubbed into your eye.
Particles can also fall into the eyes from hair, clothing, or even items of PPE. Gases and fine suspended dust in the air can cause irritation, inflammation, and other damage.
Corneal scratches caused by metal particles can cause a serious eye injury. The eye can become inflamed, painful, and teary in reaction to the foreign object. Medical attention may be required to remove the foreign object, wash out the eye, assess the damage and apply treatment as required.
When it comes to mechanical hazards, they are typically from chipping slag from welds, or high-speed particles resulting from cutting metal, surface preparation, weld refinement, and surface finishing. Another important consideration are the hazards associated with jumping tools and fragmenting discs.
Penetrating and blunt force injuries are often traumatic and painful. In most cases, they also require immediate medical attention. These injuries may lead to lost work time that will impact productivity. Other health effects to the eyes and face may include impact trauma and lacerations from flying particles and burns from hot slag or particles.
There is a wide variety of eye and face protection PPE available. Options include safety glasses and goggles, safety glasses with foam gasket, clear and tinted faceshields, and grinding and welding headtops with powered and supplied air respirator systems. It is important to select products from a reputable PPE manufacturer that are appropriate for the hazard and working conditions and meet appropriate performance standards.
It is important to remember that personal protective equipment does not do any good if it is not being worn. The time wearing the equipment, and wearing the equipment correctly, is imperative. PPE needs to be worn 100% of the time when exposed to hazards to be effective.
To learn more about what PPE and other measures can be taken to protect those who engage in welding and grinding applications, please download our complimentary eBook and do not hesitate to reach out to our health and safety specialists.
i Oxford Handbook of Occupational Health (2nd Edition)
ii Top Ten Most Frequently Cited Standards, OSHA, U.S. Department of Labor, 2020
iii CPWR, “The Construction Chart Book (6th edition)”, February 2018. Chart 50f [Online]. Available:
[Accessed 16 September 2021].
iv Health and Safety Executive, “Health risks from welding”. [Online]. Available:
https://www.hse.gov.uk/welding/health-risks-welding.htm. [Accessed 14 October, 2021].
v Recognition of Health Hazards in Industry – A Review of Materials and Processes. W.A. Burgess
vi Oxford Handbook of Occupational Health (2nd Edition)
vii Oxford Handbook of Occupational Health (2nd Edition)