Yes. If you work construction or in a heavy-industrial setting, welding might be something you see every day. Whether it’s your job to operate a welder or you work nearby, however, you need to be aware of the potential hazards of exposure to potentially toxic welding fumes and chemicals associated with the welding process.
Unfortunately, toxic exposure is a serious risk in many industries. In the context of workers’ compensation law, the phrase “toxic exposure” simply means workplace exposure to a chemical, dust, or other toxin. Sometimes this causes immediate injury. Other times, it can cause or contribute toward a worker developing a serious, long-term occupational illness.
Among the most serious hazards in welding can be invisible
It’s obvious that the extreme heat and light from welding could cause serious injuries. Without the appropriate personal protective equipment, however, welders and others who work nearby could be exposed to potentially toxic gases.
According to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, welding fumes produced by welding aluminum, mild steel or iron during manual metal arc or oxy-acetylene welding commonly contain metals that have been heated so much that they become gas. Aluminum, iron or zinc oxide gas, fluorine, arsenic, beryllium, silicate, and other toxins can be present in welding fumes.
One of the most dangerous is manganese from the base metal or the welding rods, wire and flux. Welding within a confined space increases the risk of exposure to hazardous levels of toxic gases like manganese.
‘Metal fume fever’ is the least of your problems
An estimated 30 to 40 percent of all welders have suffered from metal fume fever, which causes delayed flu-like symptoms and typically requires just a couple of days off work. Unfortunately, exposure to manganese welding fumes can also cause neurological damage, including a serious disorder called “manganism,” which has symptoms somewhat like Parkinson’s disease.
If you have suffered a chemical injury or believe you may have developed an illness due to toxic exposure at the workplace, it’s very important to act right away. Assuming your sickness was caused by job-related activities and you’re otherwise eligible, you should be covered by for workers’ compensation. However, workers’ comp insurers will require a great deal of detailed medical information and may even deny your claim at first, so you may want to discuss your situation with a lawyer.