Anyone working in the manufacturing industry knows there’s a lot that goes into staying safe on the job. Whether you’re an employer or employee, you know that health and safety is paramount. Today we're talking about Chromium (VI). Chromium metal is often added to alloy steel to increase hardenability and corrosion resistance, but it is also a known carcinogen. So, if you’re doing stainless steel welding, this is something you need to watch out for. A major source of worker exposure occurs during "hot work" like welding, so it’s very important to determine how much you and your staff is being exposed to. While we don’t provide hexavalent chromium exposure testing, we're happy to help keep you informed about OSHA guidelines and provide referrals for help with testing to keep you and your team safe and healthy!
It is the employer's responsibility to test to see how much Chromium (VI) they are generating. OSHA has established guidelines to ensure the safety of workers in environments where Chromium (VI) may be present, so let’s review those!
As OSHA states it "Each employer who has a workplace or work operation covered by this section shall determine the 8-hour TWA exposure for each employee exposed to chromium (VI)." They mandate that these guidelines apply where there is evidence that materials or processes involving chromium might release dust, fumes, or mist. So even if your operation only does a tiny bit of Stainless Steel welding, you’re still responsible for that testing. The only way to avoid testing is to not do any stainless steel welding!
Let’s go over the action level and the permissible exposure limit for Chromium (VI).
Action Level: this means a concentration of airborne chromium (VI) of 2.5 micrograms per cubic meter of air (2.5 µgm/m3) calculated as an 8-hour time-weighted average (TWA).
Permissible Exposure Limit: Employers must ensure that no employee is exposed to concentrations above 5 micrograms per cubic meter of air (5 µgm/m3) as an 8-hour TWA.
So what happens if you do your testing and find out your employee exposure is at or above the accepted levels? OSHA will require you to perform periodic monitoring and notify your affected employees.
To reduce exposure to hexavalent chromium, the first step is to consider if a process change can be made. The type of welding process, base material, and location should all be considered. Air quality engineers typically recommend starting with a change in welding wire. By switching from flux-core wire to solid wire, weld fumes and exposure to hex chrome can be drastically reduced.
In addition to process improvements, engineering controls play a crucial role in protecting welders from hex chrome. Implementing dust collection systems, such as backdraft tables and fume guns, can efficiently capture weld fumes.
Furthermore, considering an ambient dust collection system or fume extractor can help mitigate fumes throughout the facility and further reduce exposure to safe levels. Keep fume hoods, fume extractor guns and vacuum nozzles close to the plume source to remove the maximum amount of fume and gases. Portable or flexible exhaust systems can be positioned so that fume and gases are drawn away from the welder.
If exposure levels are still too high, the use of personal protective equipment (PPE) should be considered. Powered air-purifying respirators (PAPR's) are a reliable choice for welders in various welding situations. However, it's important to remember that PPE should only be used as a last resort, and engineering controls should always be implemented whenever feasible, according to OSHA guidelines.
By following these steps and prioritizing the well-being of welders, it is possible to significantly reduce exposure to hex chrome and create a safer working environment.
Action Level Exposures: Periodic monitoring, at least every six months.
Permissible Exposure Level Exposures: Periodic monitoring, at least every three months.
You must notify your affected employees within 15 work days of exposure determination. Employers must notify them individually in writing or post the results in a visible location that’s accessible to all affected employees.
While it is ideal and required of employers to do everything in their means to create an environment that reduces and maintains their staff’s acceptable exposure, there are some exceptions.
Exemption for Low Exposure Processes: Employers can be exempt from implementing certain controls if they can demonstrate that a process or task results in no exposure above the permissible limit for 30 or more days per calendar year.
Feasibility Exception: If the employer can't take actions or controls to lower exposure, then they must attempt the lowest levels achievable and then supplement with respiratory protection.
Our customers are important to us and their employees are important to them, so as a responsible welding distributor, we feel it's important to share the OSHA regulations to help manufacturers avoid a potential lawsuit and keep everyone safe!
By understanding these guidelines and implementing testing, employers can create a safer working environment for their teams and mitigate the risks associated with chromium VI exposure!