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Australian Unions Win Changes to Welding Fumes Exposure

In 2017, the World Health Organisation’s International Agency for Research on Cancer reclassified Welding as a group 1 carcinogen. Group 1 carcinogens are substances, chemical mixtures or exposure circumstances, which have been classified as carcinogenic to humans by The International Agency for Research on Cancer (IRAC).

Recently, Safe Work Australia and Work Health and Safety (WHS) Ministers agreed to recommendations to lower the limit for welding fumes exposure in Australian workplaces. This change saw the Workplace Exposure Standard (WES) for welding fumes exposure lowered from 5mg/m3 to 1mg/m3  

The WES for welding fumes represents the concentration of total fumes within a workers’ breathing zone.

The reduction is intended to better protect workers from the adverse health effects associated with welding fumes – such as lung cancer.

There are examples of teachers and lecturers working in schools and post school settings – who have taught welding – becoming sick due to welding exposure.

It is something that we should not ignore in the education industry as teachers and students may be at risk.

This change came about because of action from the union movement lead by the Australian Manufacturing Workers’ Union (AMWU).

Key Facts

A 2022 study showed that people who work in welding have a 48% higher risk of cancers.

A recent survey of people who weld or work around welding found that 58% of respondents didn’t think that exposure to welding fume was reduced as low as reasonably practicable in their workplace.

What should happen?

Safework SA recommends the following to protect workers from exposure to welding fumes:

  • Identify the hazardous components in welding fumes at your workplace.

This can come from air monitoring data or from the safety data sheets for the welding rods, if available.

  • Arrange for air monitoring if you are uncertain which components are produced and whether the relevant WES would be exceeded.
  • Assess the risk of welding fumes at your workplace.
    This includes consideration of the processes and work environment, observing the nature of work and consulting with workers about work activities that may lead to fume exposure, as well as reviewing incident reports.
  • Review the control measures you have in place to eliminate or minimise your workers’ exposure to welding fumes.

Talk to your workers and any health and safety representatives (HSRs) about the reduced WES, how it might impact your workplace, including changes to control measures and any training your workers might need.

Member Action

As a Sub-Branch, discuss WHS at your workplace and identify potential hazards to health and safety. Report any hazards identified.

If you work in a workplace where welding takes place, inform the responsible officers of the changes in exposure standards, and how it might impact upon your workplace. Ask them what controls measures that they plan to put in place and what training will be provided.



Safe Work Australia, Workplace exposure standards for airborne contaminants (2024)

Safe Work Australia, Welding Code of Practice

SafeWork SA, Work Tasks and Projects, Welding

Cancer Council South Australia, Occupational Cancer Risk Series Welding

Lancet Oncology  Carcinogenicity of welding, molybdenum trioxide, and indium tin oxide Vol 18 May 2017