Many welders today are at increased risk for hearing loss, not only due to the noise they are routinely subjected to as part of their job, but quite possibly from the welding fumes that they are exposed to on a regular basis.
For welders, regular job hazards include loud noise, intense heat, blinding light and breathing in potentially harmful welding fumes.
Fumes are a byproduct of any type of welding; however, the most fumes are created during arc welding. In arc welding, high heat from an electric arc is used to melt and fuse metals, and during this process the arc’s heat vaporizes a small amount of metal which is released into the air as fumes. The danger of these fumes will depend upon many factors, such as the base metal, type of welding rod, any paint or coatings, level of ventilation, etc.
Few people are aware that exposure to certain chemicals or heavy metals can have negative effects on hearing. In fact, in combination, loud noise and simultaneous exposure to industrial chemicals or heavy metals can work to cause higher levels of hearing damage than either type of exposure alone.
In recent years, the presence of manganese in welding fumes has come under closer examination.
Manganese, a naturally occurring metal and essential trace nutrient, is routinely found in welding rods and wire. Manganese is necessary for healthy bones and skin, but in high-concentrations it is known to cause serious neurological damage. The permanent neurological effects caused by toxic levels of manganese is said to cause symptoms that are similar to that of Parkinson’s disease (poor balance, tremors, etc).
The increased risk was recognized in 1981 by the World Health Organization (WHO), when it labeled manganese poisoning as a serious occupational health hazard for welders.
Of the many neurological effects caused by high levels of manganese exposure, animal studies have shown that even low levels of exposure can cause permanent damage to the auditory nerve fibers and sensitive cells of the inner ear.
Because of the many hazards that welders are exposed to on a regular basis, it’s especially important that employers have an industrial hygiene monitoring plan in place. This can help prevent and minimize dangerous exposures. As part of their industrial hygiene program, welders should also take an active part in hearing conservation to prevent hearing loss and should have their hearing tested annually.
How welders can reduce hazardous exposures:
w Know what materials you are working with. If you ask for it, your employer must show you Material Data Safety Sheets (MSDS). Reading the MSDS can help you know what your potential exposure could be using a particular type of welding rod or material.
w Don’t weld on painted parts. Remove the surface coating before you begin welding.
w Keep your face away from the welding plume. Ensure you have proper ventilation and wear a respirator when necessary.
w Your employer must provide you with safety training. Please take this training seriously, as it can have serious consequences for your long-term health.
w Protect others from exposure. Put on clean clothes prior to leaving your work place to ensure you don’t bring home any hazardous materials and expose your family and loved ones.
Have questions? Speak with your employer’s safety or industrial hygiene department. To learn more about your employer’s responsibilities, contact your local union or the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) at 800-321-6742.
May Is Better Hearing Month
Some facts on hearing loss:
-- Approximately one in 10 Americans, or 34 million people, have some degree of hearing loss.
-- Fewer than 15 percent of physicians today ask patients if they have any hearing problems.
-- People with untreated hearing loss are more likely to report depression, anxiety and paranoia and less likely to participate in organized activities, compared with those who wear hearing aids, according to a survey by the National Council on the Aging (NCOA).
-- Untreated mild to moderate hearing loss is associated with short-term memory loss, according to a Brandeis University study.
-- People with untreated hearing loss lose as much as $30,000 in income annually, depending on their degree of hearing loss and are twice as likely to experience unemployment as their peers who use hearing aids on the job.
-- Kevin Liebe is an audiologist at Columbia Basin Hearing Center.