In its mission to protect welding workers nationwide, OSHA (Occupational Safety and Health Administration) recently turned its attention to cutting down on the use of manganese in welding wire. Welding wire is often composed of many different materials and elements, including manganese, which helps prevent corrosion when added to steel. The problem for welders and other industrial workers, according to OSHA, is created when manganese fumes or dust particles are inhaled on a regular basis.
Exposure to manganese fumes can cause injury to the human brain and central nervous system. Research has shown that inhalation of manganese fumes creates neurophysiological effects, including conditions known as “manganism” and “metal fume fever.” OSHA defines “manganism” as a condition that mimics Parkinson’s Disease – it causes people to have gait disturbances, clumsiness, tremors, speech disturbances, and psychological issues. “Metal fume fever,” according to OSHA, is a temporary condition caused by inhaling manganese fumes, often with symptoms such as chills, fever, upset stomach, vomiting, dryness of the throat, cough, weakness, and achiness.
OSHA works closely with the American Conference of Governmental Industrial Hygienists (ACGIH) to determine its weld fume particulate regulations. A recent article in The Fabricator, published by the Fabricators & Manufacturers Association, Int’l, says, “The American Conference of Governmental Industrial Hygienists (ACGIH) recommended a 10-fold reduction in the time-weighted average (TWA) (measured over an eight-hour shift) threshold limit value (TLV) for respirable manganese particulate. The association reduced the respirable TLV-TWA limit of 0.2 mg/m3 to 0.02 mg/m3. According to the new TLV, a person should not breathe in more than 0.02 milligrams per cubic meter of air (mg/m3) of manganese over an eight-hour work period.”
Within the last decade, similar requirements were established in Europe, and now they’re being adopted in the U.S. These new guidelines dramatically reduce manganese exposure limits and cause companies in the welding community in the U.S. to rethink their operations and safety plans.
What’s being done now? Both Miller Electric and Hobart Filler Metals have developed new products to meet this challenge. Companies are installing fume extraction systems and using fume extraction guns, along with requiring employees to wear respiratory protection masks or helmets. Additionally, welding wire is now being manufactured with much lower levels of manganese in order to help companies meet OSHA’s new guidelines for working with manganese fumes. Industry is now beginning to take a proactive approach to the safety of its welders—and so should you.