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Welding fumes exposure has been ruled as contributing to lung cancer in multiple Australian workers compensation claims, with compensation judgements awarded to the complainants. These outcomes have implications for all industries that carry out metal fabrication in terms of managing employees' exposure to the damaging fumes.
The welding processes used extensively in manufacturing and steelworks involve the release of fumes containing a group 1 carcinogen, as classified by the World Health Organization in 2017, along with asbestos and silica.
Materials responsible may include:
Welding these materials generates fumes containing a mixture of very fine particles and gases which can be inhaled by workers performing the job1.
The cancer risk potentially may affect Australia's 42,500+ metal fabricators and almost 20,000 welders, with global research indicating 0.1% per annum incidence of lung cancer attributed to occupational welding fumes2.
To identify the extent of the risk and find working solutions SafeWork NSW commissioned a study by the University of Sydney's School of Public Health to examine exposure to welding fumes and the use of safety measures to control this.
At the same time the Australian Manufacturing Workers' Union is campaigning for the legal exposure limit of 5 milligrams of fumes per cubic metre to be reduced in line with global standards. In Germany the legal limit is 1.25mg per cubic metre and in the Netherlands it is a more conservative 1mg per cubic metre. SafeWork Australia is currently reviewing allowable levels.
Cancer risk from welding also depends on:
Along with reducing the acceptable limit of fumes concentration, business owners can also adopt measures to lower the risk of inhalation by using alternatives to welding where possible and observing preventative protocols identified by SafeWork Australia3..
These could include:
Workers who develop lung cancer as a result of workplace exposure may seek support or damages through workers compensation, but if investigation uncovers unsafe work practices the liability then potentially falls on others, including
While workers compensation policy claims may differ from state to state, they must be made in accordance with relevant health and safety regulations.
Business owners would be well advised to check the terms and exclusion in their management liability insurance cover as well.
Workers, contractors and employers in industry sectors that use welding processes, from manufacturing to automotive repairs, stand to be affected by welding fumes risk. An experienced insurance broker can help you understand how you need to respond in order to protect yourself, your workers and your business.
For proactive guidance and support our locally focused but nationally resourced Gallagher Workplace Risk management specialists also provide workplace risk advisory services to clients through our dedicated team of consultants. The scope of assistance spans completing operational risk assessments of those activities where welding fumes exposures may exist, air monitoring against tightening exposure standards and help with practical risk control measures that eliminate or mitigate risks from fumes.
Our workers compensation claims specialists can provide guidance and advice on the nature of your work and potential impacts of compensable claims or premium rate movements.
The Gallagher Workplace Risk team can also deliver bespoke education and training programs (online or face to face) that improve workforce engagement on the known issues and industry best practice controls.
Gallagher provides insurance, risk management and benefits consulting services for clients in response to both known and unknown risk exposures. When providing analysis and recommendations regarding potential insurance coverage, potential claims and/or operational strategy in response to national emergencies (including health crises), we do so from an insurance and/or risk management perspective, and offer broad information about risk mitigation, loss control strategy and potential claim exposures. We have prepared this commentary and other news alerts for general information purposes only and the material is not intended to be, nor should it be interpreted as, legal or client-specific risk management advice. General insurance descriptions contained herein do not include complete insurance policy definitions, terms and/or conditions, and should not be relied on for coverage interpretation. The information may not include current governmental or insurance developments, is provided without knowledge of the individual recipient's industry or specific business or coverage circumstances, and in no way reflects or promises to provide insurance coverage outcomes that only insurance carriers' control.
Insurance brokerage and related services to be provided by Arthur J. Gallagher & Co (Aus) Limited (ABN 34 005 543 920). Australian Financial Services License (AFSL) No. 238312