My brother took welding in high school and he loved to scare me with the mask the students used to protect their face and eyes. We would also use the mask to see astronomical phenomena when we could not look directly at the sun. That was the extent of my exposure to welding.
Welding is the joining of two or more pieces of metal by using intense heat. During this process, gases are formed and small solid particles are released into the air creating a plume that is referred to as “welding fumes.”
There are two high-risk areas of welding connected to hearing loss. The first is a Drop Weld ear injury, which can occur if any of the hot metal falls into the ear canal and burns. Often, the eardrum has a hole burnt into it. Instances have been reported when the metal then cools in the middle ear and hardens around the ossicles. In such cases, surgery to remove the metal and reconstruct the middle ear is needed. More and more of the masks used by professional welders are designed to cover the ears as well as well as the face. But those who weld as a hobby also need to cover their ears.
The other high risk that welders face is exposure to gases. Over a long period of time these gases can affect the welder in a variety of ways. These include causing hearing loss and also Parkinson’s disease and symptoms that are similar to Parkinson’s, which are linked to Manganese exposure. Manganese is one of the gases released in the welding fume. When performing a task, a welder can inhale the fumes, which may then enter the lungs, bloodstream, brain nerve cells, spinal cord, and other organs, resulting in both short and long-term effects.
Short-Term Health Effects of Welding Fume Exposure
Eye, ear, nose, throat and chest irritation
Metal fume fever
Shortness of breath
Long-Term Health Effects of Welding Fume Exposure
Chronic asthma, bronchitis, emphysema, pneumonia, siderosis, silicosis
Gastritis or stomach ulcers
Symptoms of Manganese-Induced Parkinsonism
Loss of balance
Nighttime leg cramps
Shaking or tremors
Short-term memory loss
Tightening of facial muscles
The take home on this? If you are going to do any welding, you must protect all the holes in your head- including your ears! Also, you should weld only in areas that have good ventilation. A respirator breathing apparatus is a good “last line of defense” when engineering control systems are not feasible. If you weld or know a welder, here is a good resource for worker’s rights and possible health risks.