Purpose: Welding fume consists of metal fumes, e.g., manganese (Mn) and gases, e.g., ozone. Particles in the respirable dust (RD) size range dominate. Exposure to welding fume could cause short- and long-term respiratory effects. The prevalence of work-related symptoms among mild steel welders was studied, and the occupational exposure to welding fumes was quantified by repeated measurements of RD, respirable Mn, and ozone. Also the variance components were studied.
Method: A questionnaire concerning airway symptoms and occupational history was answered by 79% of a cohort of 484 welders. A group of welders (N = 108) were selected and surveyed by personal exposure measurements of RD and ozone three times during 1 year.
Results: The welders had a high frequency of work-related symptoms, e.g., stuffy nose (33%), ocular symptoms (28%), and dry cough (24%). The geometric mean exposure to RD and respirable Mn was 1.3 mg/m(3) (min-max 0.1-38.3 mg/m(3)) and 0.08 mg/m(3) (min-max <0.01-2.13 mg/m(3)), respectively. More than 50% of the Mn concentrations exceeded the Swedish occupational exposure limit (OEL). Mainly, low concentrations of ozone were measured, but 2% of the samples exceeded the OEL. Of the total variance for RD, 30 and 33% can be attributed to within-worker variability and between-company variability, respectively.
Conclusions: Welders had a high prevalence of work-related symptom from the airways and eyes. The welders' exposure to Mn was unacceptably high. To reduce the exposure further, control measures in the welding workshops are needed. Correct use of general mechanical ventilation and local exhaust ventilation can, for example, efficiently reduce the exposure.