According to the U.S. Department of Labor (DOL), welding, soldering, and brazing workers are frequently exposed to a number of hazards, including the intense light created by the arc, poisonous fumes, and very hot materials. During the period from 1992 to 2001, fatal occupational injury rates for welders and cutters were 1.7 to 3.3 times greater than injury rates for all other construction workers. Rates for welders and cutters showed an increasing trend, from 23.7 per 100,000 full-time workers in 1992, to 45.4 in 1997. The fatal injury rate of 39.9 per 100,000 full-time workers in 2001 was 3 times the rate for all construction workers and represented a 68% increase from 1992.
If an employee currently works, previously worked, or is in an area where industrial welding is being performed, chances are the employee was exposed to welding rod fumes. Recent medical research suggests that exposure to welding fumes may lead many health problems, including two serious illnesses, Parkinson’s disease and Manganism. There are many court cases pending regarding this exposure, the hazards involved and the health impact on employees.
For example, in early September 2005 a Mississippi shipyard worker who claimed his neurological problems were caused by inhaling fumes from welding rods concluded his lawsuit by settling with the final two welding company defendants in his case. The worker’s lawsuit against the two welding manufacturers was scheduled for trial the following week. The lawsuit was settled for more than one million dollars.
As stated, the two diseases most commonly reported in medical research from the exposure to welding fumes are Manganism and Parkinson’s disease. A description of each of these diseases follows:
Manganism, also known as secondary Parkinsonism, is a condition that develops when excessive levels of manganese injure that portion of the brain that controls body movements. Symptoms of this condition include fatigue, headache, slow or slurred speech, poor memory, impaired balance and tremors, delusions and hallucinations, disorientation and/or difficulty walking.
In addition to Manganism, recent studies have found that exposure to manganese fumes is associated with the early onset of Parkinson’s disease.
In fact, research conducted at the Washington University School of Medicine found that welders developed symptoms of Parkinson’s disease an average of 15 years earlier than the general population.
Parkinson’s disease belongs to a group of conditions called motor system disorders, which are the result of the loss of dopamine-producing brain cells. The four primary symptoms of the disease are tremor or trembling in hands, arms, legs, jaw, and face; rigidity, or stiffness of the limbs and trunk; slowness of movement; and postural instability, or impaired balance and coordination. As these symptoms become more pronounced, patients may have difficulty walking, talking, or completing other simple tasks. Early symptoms of the disease are subtle and occur gradually. Other symptoms may include depression and other emotional changes; difficulty in swallowing, chewing, and speaking; urinary problems or constipation; skin problems; and sleep disruptions.
Employees that have been involved in welding, or who have worked for long periods in areas where welding work was being performed, and have a number of the symptoms listed above, should seek legal guidance. It is necessary to study work history records and evaluate medical records to determine whether there may be a valid claim against the manufacturers. Potential claims are subject to statute of limitations.
Employment Accidents: Welding
Because their work inherently involves exposure to superheated metal, welders are at special risk for occupational injury. The Federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention say a major occupational safety risk for welders and those who work around them may be manganism, or manganese poisoning, from the fumes created by some types of welding. The fumes cause irreversible damage to the part of the brain that controls body movements, causing stiffness, trembling in the limbs and face, slowness and impaired balance that gets progressively worse. For that reason, manganism is often misdiagnosed as Parkinson’s disease, multiple sclerosis or Lou Gehrig’s disease. There is no cure, but employers can prevent manganese poisoning (also called secondary Parkinsonism) by providing proper ventilation in work areas and respirators for welders.