Welding is one of the more challenging trade jobs. It requires the knowhow of many different kinds of dangerous machines and tools. Properly using blow torches and learning the different techniques to handle steel takes time to master. Thousands of skilled welders are injured annually due to unsafe work practices, and a sinister side effect of welding is metal fume fever.
Also called the welding illness, or by common vernacular the brass shakes, it is caused by breathing in fumes given off by toxic, gaseous molecules. Magnesium oxide and zinc oxide are two of the most common, and they are emitted when welding galvanized steel and other common metals. Welding illness can cause temporary symptoms or lead to terrible chronic conditions, like asthma.
Metal fume fever symptoms vary. Typically, they manifest themselves much in the same way as influenza, causing fever, nausea, headaches, joint pain, coughs, and chills. Some people state they have a metallic taste in their mouth, akin to drinking orange juice out of a metal thermos. Extreme cases include yellowing skin, vomiting, and more. Metal fume fever lasts for at least a few days, though it can persist for several weeks.
If you have contracted metal fume fever, you will need proper bedrest and plenty of water. It is advised that you seek a doctor immediately. More importantly, illness is a sign that extra preventative measures need to be put in place to prevent further damage. This may include better PPE, installation of a ventilation system, or other environmental changes. It is your right as a worker to demand safe work conditions without repercussions from your boss.
Like coal miners, welders may develop a host of respiratory problems without the proper safeguards. Among the obtainable diseases, welding fumes can cause:
A sign that welding is causing respiratory problems include a dry throat, chronic coughing, and a tightness in the chest. These effects often dissipate after the work day concludes, though extended exposure increases length of discomfort. Arc welding exposes workers to nitrous oxides, a major threat to the throat and lungs. Welding fumes can reduce lung capacity and ability to breathe, much like smoking cigarettes.
Avoidance is the best way to completely avoid toxic fumes, though this is not always an option. Properly using all exhaust systems greatly decreases fume exposure, and your workplace needs to supply you with respirators. Workers also need regular training to reinforce safety rules. Cutting corners in a trade as dangerous as welding leads to severe problems that build momentum over time.
In rare cases, welding methods or the product itself may be altered to eliminate the most harmful toxic fumes. For instance, cadmium plating has been almost completely replaced by nickel and zinc in the welding industry.
If you are concerned about any illness you may have developed or any accidents that are the result of welding, contact us at Sweeney Merrigan Law today. It’s your right to stay safe in your trade.