Health Hazards of Oxy-Acetylene Cutting & Welding-June 2015

Monthly Round Up of Important Ideas and Standards in
Industrial Hygiene and Safety

June  2015

IN THIS ISSUE: Health Hazards of Oxy-Acetylene Cutting & Welding

Oxy-acetylene cutting – also known as gas cutting or oxy-fuel cutting – is often considered less hazardous than traditional welding. Accordingly, the health hazards are often ignored. However, most or all of the hazards of welding may still exist. In gas cutting, a torch is used to heat metal to its auto-ignition temperature and a stream of oxygen is then trained on the metal, turning it into a metal oxide that flows out as slag. Acetylene is the most common gas used for fueling cutting torches. When mixed with pure oxygen in a cutting torch assembly, an acetylene flame can theoretically reach over 5700°F.

In general industry, oxygen gas cutting may be part of the work process where hazards are determined and controls are in place. But more often, it is done as maintenance operations or non­-routine work. In construction, it is often done as demolition work. In these cases, ventilation may not be available, the intensity and duration of the work may be vary, and the hazards undetermined.

For example, on a construction job where employees torch cut painted metal, personal sampling levels may far exceed occupational exposure standards for lead.

Health hazards of gas cutting are due to the radiation and toxic fumes or gases emitted during the process. The fume created by gas cutting is a mixture of very fine particles and gases. Many substances, such as chromium, nickel, arsenic, asbestos, manganese, silica, beryllium, cadmium, nitrogen oxides, phosgene, acrolein, fluorine compounds, carbon monoxide, cobalt, copper, lead, ozone, selenium, and zinc, may be present and can be extremely toxic.

Resultant health problems from gas cutting may include:

  • Eye injuries, such as discomfort and burns from the intense light and heat emitted from the operation, and cataracts caused by radiation from molten metal, leading to inability to see things clearly, or corneal ulcer and conjunctivitis from foreign particles e.g. slag and cutting sparks.
  • Skin irritation and reddening due to over exposure to radiation.
  • Illness due to inhalation of fumes or gases formed during the process, such as metal fume fever from freshly formed metal oxide, illness from toxic fumes of metals such as lead, cadmium, beryllium, bronchial and pulmonary irritation from toxic gases such as oxides of nitrogen, fluorides; burns from the flame, hot slag or hot surfaces of the work.
  • Asphyxiation due work in confined space which may deplete oxygen levels.
  • Heat-stroke from prolonged operation with the flame, especially in confined space.

Before conducting gas cutting:

  • Conduct a risk assessment to identify the hazards and the controls needed.
  • Evaluate the particulars of the work, such as duration and frequency of the cutting operation.
  • Require use of a hot work permit especially when working nearby flammable or combustible materials and keep non-qualified personal out of the area.
  • Use a permitted confined space entry permit for working in specific environments, such as confined space, pressurized, or oxygen-rich environment or working space restricting body movement
  • Provide training and use only qualified employees to do gas cutting operations.
  • Check the fuel gas and oxidant gas required and the gas supply system.
  • Provide fixed or portable ventilation as needed.
  • Provide personal protective equipment to the workers concerned against the hazards during the cutting process.
  • Use eye and face protection. Although a welding hood may not be use, a face shield with appropriate UV protection is needed.

For more information on this topic and to discuss your company’s safety and industrial hygiene needs call OccuSafe at (214) 662-6005 or contact us at

OccuSafe Industrial Hygiene & Safety, Inc. provides skills and expertise to recognize, evaluate and control hazards and injuries in the areas of industrial hygiene, occupational safety and health. OccuSafe services companies of all sizes in a range of industries.

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