Fire may be the primary safety concern of welders in New Jersey workplaces, but dangers posed by the smoke and fumes associated with both fusion and pressure welding should not be overlooked. The Occupational Safety and Health Administration points out that welding fumes often contain toxic gases such as hydrogen fluoride and carbon monoxide as well as traces of metals like lead, beryllium and arsenic.
Workers who inhale toxic welding fumes sometimes develop serious medical problems, and even brief exposure can cause dizziness, nausea and irritation of the eyes, nose or throat. Workers who are exposed to these fumes for prolonged periods have suffered kidney and nervous system damage and developed various forms of cancer. Fumes containing gases like carbon dioxide, helium and argon can also pose a suffocation hazard when welders work in confined spaces.
OSHA recommends that areas where welding is to take place be well ventilated and workers should be provided with respiratory equipment when necessary. The agency also encourages employers and workers to not allow welding to begin until all concerned have been advised of the hazards. Work spaces should also be kept clean as grime can emit particularly toxic fumes when exposed to very high temperatures.
Workers' compensation claims related to a workplace accident are often fairly straightforward, but cases dealing with serious health problems associated with long-term exposure to toxic substances can be complex. Employers may contest these claims due to cost concerns or fears that they could face a flood of similar claims in the future. In these situations, experienced workers' compensation attorneys may call upon medical experts to establish that sick workers developed respiratory problems or diseases like cancer due to their working conditions and not their lifestyle choices.