In February 2019, the UK Health and Safety Executive (HSE) issued a safety bulletin about the change in enforcement expectations for control of welding fume.1 All welding fume (including mild steel) is now classed as a carcinogen which can cause lung cancer and has the potential to cause kidney cancer.

Following this safety bulletin 3M’s Welding Expert and Application Engineer, Simon Field, takes us through these changes, what they mean for UK businesses and workers, and more importantly how you can ensure you comply with them.

Prior to this new regulation there were guidelines around the risk posed by welding fumes and the types of protection that could be used and implemented. Simon explains that the level of risk posed was determined by the Health and Safety Manager in the place of work, based on the concentration of welding fumes in the working environment, the length of exposure, the type of weld fume and so on. Based on these factors, the Safety Manager then would suggest the level and methods of control required for the worker to be safe.

What are the Changes?

HSE Bulletin STSU1 – 2019:

  • All Indoor welding tasks require the use of Local Exhaust Ventilation (LEV). Respiratory Protective Equipment (RPE) is also required for any residue welding fumes.
  • Outdoor welding requires use of RPE.

Why have these changes been implemented?

The International Agency for Research on Cancer (IARC)3 has conducted a study and published the results which has led to the reclassification of mild steel welding fume as a human carcinogen. Consequently, there has been a strengthening of the HSE’s enforcement expectation for exposure control for all welding fume including mild and stainless steels, high chrome steels, armour plating and exotic metals.

What does this mean for UK Business’?

Business’ will now need to look at the level of protection they currently offer their welding workforce to ensure that it meets the expectations of the HSE. If not already in place, an RPE programme will need to be developed and implemented, ensuring workers are suitably trained and instructed in the use of this new RPE. Programmes such as this will ensure the correct RPE is selected, maintained, stored, cleaned and of course adopted and in cases where it is required that a Face-Fit Testing programme is implemented.

“3M support UK business’s in these areas with free webinars, safety and training tools, in-house event support, hands-on training, and marketing materials that help educate the workforce. 3M also offer Face-Fit testing and training services to ensure workers are fully protected.” – Simon Field, Application Engineer, 3M UK.

Also worth a mention is facial hair, explains Simon. Whilst many men in the UK love to fashion a beard, they are incompatible with some RPE solutions, in-particular those that require a tight-fitting seal. That doesn’t just mean a beard or designer stubble, workers need to be clean shaven to get a good seal with their respirator. That’s why it’s so important for the RPE selected to be correct and suitable for the workforce who will be wearing them. 3M offers a great selection of solutions to welders, all of which, if correctly worn and maintained will provide suitable protection.

The HSE have provide specific guidance on their website which outlines control measures to consider when welding in a variety of environments, in all cases when RPE is required a minimum Assigned Protection Factor (APF) of 20 is outlined. 3

What are the RPE solutions to comply?

Below are some examples of suitable RPE, which depending on your risk assessment, may suitable:

For advice on selecting the most appropriate 3M RPE for you, your situation and your workforce contact your local 3M representative or our health and safety helpline on 0870 60 800 60 (UK).

Please refer to the links below for more information and how to implement RPE in the workplace:


  1. Change in Enforcement Expectations for Mild Steel Welding Fume [Accessed 26 February 2019]
  2. IARC Monographs on the Evaluation of Carcinogenic Risks to Humans Volume 118 [Accessed 26 February 2019]
  3. HSE Task specific COSHH guidance for welding, cutting and allied jobs [Accessed 27 February 2019]