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Written by Robert E. Sheriff, MS, CIH, CSP, President
November 9, 2018
Welders have the potential to be overexposed to Hexavalent Chromium, also called Hex Chrome, or Chrome 6 during welding especially if its production welding, or full shift welding on stainless steel. Overexposure to Hex Chrome can also occur on many forms of carbon steel since many steel alloys contain chromium. Also, welding rods may also contain chromium that can form into Hexavalent Chromium when heated/melted during welding activities.
OSHA has identified Chrome 6 (CrVI) as a carcinogen and now has a specific regulation related to worker exposure. It is 29CFR1910.1026 (General Industry) and 29CFR1926.1126 (Construction).
This OSHA Standard requires initial worker sampling in any activity that could contain Chromium and thus potentially overexpose that person to Hexavalent Chromium. The most likely workers exposed are welders and those assisting the welders or in the immediate area.
If initial sampling identifies welder’s overexposure to hex chrome, the standard requires an effort to engineer out the exposure. Several possible ways are available to “engineer out” the exposure. They include:
- Automate the welding if possible—this separates the worker from the direct exposure to the welding fume—and thus—the Hexavalent Chromium.
- Change the welding method. Often the heaviest exposure potential exists with “stick welding.” Possibly change to MIG or TIG welding which will likely reduce the amount of welding fumes. TIG releases the least amount of fume.
- Local Exhaust Ventilation – Often an “elephant trunk” exhaust system can be used where welding is relatively stationary. Care must be taken not to locate the exhaust close enough to the weld point to interfere with the inert gas shield at the weld point.
- General Exhaust Ventilation – This simply involves air movement to carry the welding fumes away from the welder’s breathing zone. This can only be done in a generally open space so the welding fumes do not expose other workers to the fumes. Floor fans or general air flow using wall or ceiling fans can be considered.
- Work Practice Controls – This involves the control of welding fume exposure through the welder rotating to non-exposure tasks. This may involve the use of two or more rotating welders or ensuring that one welder works no more on a “hex chrome” task during a single shift so that they do not exceed the ACTION LEVEL EXPOSURE (in this case 2.5 ug/M3).
- Respiratory Protection – In an overexposure situation, OSHA only allows respiratory protection. 1) As a temporary control while engineering controls are being implemented. 2) As a supplement to engineering controls. 3) When engineering control are not feasible or not sufficient to control exposure.
The conditions during welding involving Hexavalent Chromium can vary radically from welder to welder and day to day. It is best to seek the assistance of an experienced Certified Industrial Hygienist (CIH) where over exposures have occurred—or are likely to occur—to provide guidance and exposure reduction assistance. You should also access a copy of the applicable OSHA Regulation which can be found at https://www.osha.gov “laws & regulations” select “industry” or “Construction” and scroll down to the applicable provision industry is 1910.1026 and contruction is 1926-1126.
Our primary service areas for Hexavalent Chromium sampling/testing are: NJ, NY, NYC, PA, CT, DE, (Boston) MA, RI, Wash DC, WI, MD, MI, (Chicago) IL, VA, IN, (Atlanta) GA, AL, NC, SC, TN, (Dallas, Ft Worth) TX, OK, DC, AR, we can service most other areas of the U.S. but with some added travel charges.