Hexavalent Chromium

Know The Facts In Order To Make the Right Compliance Decisions

Hexavalent Chromium, or Cr(VI), became a part of daily welding lexicon with the implementation of OSHA Standard 29 CFR 1910.1026. Compliance methods discussed in the standard center on the need to reduce Cr(VI) concentrations to a specified PEL, or Permissible Exposure Limit. Methods of compliance as advised by OSHA include material substitution (base metal and/or filler), employee isolation away from the source of the fumes, dilution methods (the dispersal of fumes by fans), and local exhaust ventilation. All of these methods have their merits and limitations, and their utilization largely depends on the needs and circumstances of individual welding operations.

Where material substitution and isolation methods are not viable or practical, a welder seeking OSHA compliance will by necessity turn to dilution and ventilation methods. Dilution, as mentioned previous, is nothing more than dispersal of smoke and fumes by shop fans and other types of blowers. This method is the most widely used of all techniques, but as it applies to Hexavalent chromium control, it only moves the problem particulate from one location to another. As a result, dilution methods may not only prevent OSHA compliance from being obtained, but may also put non-welding employees at risk.

While OSHA does not necessarily endorse one method over another (their goal is to reduce PELS to within standard, regardless of the method), they are very clear in indicating that local exhaust ventilation is a very practical and reliable mediation practice. Local exhaust ventilation products are also known by the names source capture equipment and fume extractors. They are also euphemistically known in the welding trade as ‘smoke eaters”. Products in this category can range from relatively inexpensive portable and mobile equipment to large scale, permanently installed central vacuum systems. While equipment, and costs, in this category can vary widely, they have one thing in common: they capture and smoke and fumes at the source of creation, and transport the particulate either to the outdoors, or to a filtering device.

While blowing fumes outdoors is a common practice, it’s not necessarily an economical method when one considers that heated and cooled air is blown out of the building along with harmful particulate. Furthermore, local air quality regulations may not allow some or all welding smoke to be exhausted outdoors. And finally, and most importantly, exhausting harmful particulates to the general atmosphere potentially puts more people at risk than by doing nothing at all. In the interest of full disclosure, Ace sells extraction arms and exhausters for those facilities wishing to purchase such equipment. The method of exhausting fumes outdoors, however, is not our first recommended practice. For the sake of worker health as well as for regulatory compliance, we strongly feel that source capture via a filtration device is the logical solution.

Filtration units, by their very nature, capture and contain harmful particulate, which can then be disposed of. Of all the available remediation methods, filtering the most practical and the most thorough. Ace’s core product line utilizes filters for this reason. In fact, Ace fume extractors are among the most versatile in the marketplace, each capable of employing numerous filter arrays to meet a wide variety of work applications and compliance goals. More importantly, the flexibility of the Ace filtering system helps welders ensure their long-term workplace breathing health and safety.

For more information on OSHA’s standard on Hexavalent Chromium and how it might affect you and your business, click here. Ace advises independent air testing to determine the level of remediation needed to achieve compliance. Consult with an independent professional certified by the AIHA (American Industrial Hygiene Association). Click here to locate a consultant in your area.

Ace Industrial has produced a guide to welding fume safety that addresses not only the OSHA Hexavalent Chromium standard, but advises on the most effective, practical, and affordable solutions to welding fume problems. The guide will be available May 10, 2010 and will be available in both print and electronic formats.