Are Welders Who Work with Stainless Steel at Risk?
Welding can pose hidden health risks for workers. Many long-term medical problems can affect professional welders – especially those who don’t take care of their health and safety from the beginning. Typical welding processes are already dangerous without proper safety gear, but welding with stainless steel might come with a unique, additional hazard: inhaling hexavalent chromium.
What Is Hexavalent Chromium?
Chromium naturally occurs in stainless steel. It is an element that breaks down into gas when exposed to heat. During welding processes, the chromium in stainless steel can turn into gas and fill the air – presenting a serious health risk to the welder. Hexavalent chromium is the gaseous form of chromium. It is a known carcinogen that can cause many adverse health effects, according to the Occupational Health and Safety Administration (OSHA). OSHA lists the following potential health risks from occupational exposure to hexavalent chromium:
- Eye irritation and damage
- Respiratory irritation and cancer
- Perforated eardrums
- Kidney damage
- Liver damage
- Pulmonary congestion and edema
- Skin irritation
- Nose irritation and damage
- Teeth erosion and discoloration
OSHA also states that hexavalent chromium compounds can cause cancer in workers. The risk of cancer increases in proportion to the length of time the worker is breathing the toxic gas. Studies show that hexavalent chromium exposure can potentially cause lung cancer, as well as nasal and sinus cancers. Based on this information, welders can suffer terminal illnesses and permanent health effects from welding with stainless steel.
How to Protect Yourself While Welding with Stainless Steel
OSHA has recommended ways in which welders and their employers can control hazardous fumes and gases, including hexavalent chromium, while welding. The Administration states that all employers must provide adequate information and training for workers on how to operate with and around hazardous materials while welding. OSHA also recommends that welders clean welding surfaces of any liquids or coating that could lead to toxic exposure, such as paint and solvents.
OSHA has specific rules for how employers must handle stainless steel welding and hexavalent chromium. These rules state that no employer shall expose workers to more than five micrograms per cubic meter of air of airborne chromium at any time. It is up to employers to calculate eight-hour time-weight average of hexavalent chromium and to take action accordingly. Failure to do so, resulting in employee injuries and illnesses, could lead to a lawsuit.
Welders can take actions to protect themselves from exposure as well. For example, they should stay up-wind of what they are welding in open environments to help prevent breathing in fumes. Always adhere to workplace rules and safety best practices, such as wearing proper eye protection and a respirator with an adequate filter. If you’re worried about the levels of chromium in the air at your workplace, talk to your employer or file a safety violation claim with OSHA. Take your health into your own hands.
Do You Suffer from Hexavalent Chromium Illness or Injury?
If you’re a welder who works with stainless steel, it’s entirely possible that you’ve breathed in harmful amounts of hexavalent chromium while on the job. You might have grounds to file a workers’ compensation and/or personal injury claim against your employer or another party if a doctor has diagnosed you with health problems related to hexavalent chromium exposure. It is your employer’s duty to assess this risk and take reasonable steps to protect welders before injuries and illnesses can occur. Failure to do so is negligence.
Welders in Alabama’s metal fabrication shops and facilities that manufacture stainless steel products are most at risk of exposure to toxic substances in the air. To explore your rights and opportunities for financial compensation after inhaling harmful amounts of gaseous chromium, contact a Birmingham personal injury attorney. A lawyer can help you decide whether a workers’ compensation claim or injury lawsuit is best for your particular case. A lawsuit will generally result in greater compensation for your lost wages, medical bills, and pain and suffering damages.