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At times, the 29-year-old has noticed inhaling the dangerous fumes on the job, and at one point developed the lung illness pleurisy.
“The minute I inhaled that smoke that day it burned on the way down,” Casey said.
“There’s a lot of risks breathing in the fumes.”
“It’s definitely heavy on your breathing, it leaves you with shortness of breath,” says Wes Hodgens, who has worked in welding for two decades.
“There’s definitely a metallic flavour to it.”
For some that exposure has devastating consequences.
People who work in welding have a 48 per cent higher risk of developing lung cancer, according to a 2022 study from the World Health Organisation and International Labour Organisation.
“Most people who weld are not going to get lung cancer, but there’s no doubt that being exposed to welding fume increases the risk,” said Professor Tim Driscoll, chair of Cancer Council Australia’s Occupational and Environmental Cancer Committee.
Exposure to UV radiation during welding can also cause eye melanoma according to the Cancer Council.
“These are skilled workers, boiler makers and welders, who take pride in their work,” said Andrew Dettmer, the National President of the Australian Manufacturing Workers Union.
“It’s not just people who are doing the welding, but people in a welding workplace.
“If they are exposed and they do get lung cancer or other diseases such as manganism, that can be a death sentence. For Australian workers it’s about time we saw some change.”
The AMWU has teamed up with law firm Maurice Blackburn to launch a national campaign to push for high safety standards and also create a register for workers who have been exposed.
Since 2017 welding fumes have been classed as a Group 1 Carcinogen, a substance known to cause cancer in humans, by the World Health Organisation.
It’s in the same category as asbestos and silica dust.
But the legal exposure limit hasn’t changed since 1991.
In Australia, workers can legally be exposed to as much as 5mg per cubic metre. In Germany the standard is 1.25mg per cubic metre and in the Netherlands its 1mg per cubic metre.
“By lowering that exposure limit it will force employers to provide that safer workplace,” Dettmer said.
“There’s pretty good evidence to say it probably should be lower than 5, probably 1 is the better level to have,” Driscoll said.
In a statement to 9News, Safe Work Australia said it’s “currently considering whether a further review of the workplace exposure standards for welding fumes collectively should be undertaken”.
“We don’t want anyone to get cancer from their workplace … and it’s especially a problem when we know there’s something we can do about it,” Driscoll said.
“By having good ventilation in place, by using respiratory protection appropriately, having people appropriately trained so they understand the risks involved – they’re the things that can be done to make the risk as low as possible.”
For now, the true scale of the problem is unknown, but research is underway to determine how many workers have been exposed to fumes at dangerous levels.
“There’s still tens of thousands of people, so it’s not a trivial problem at all… I come back to the fact that it’s preventable,” Driscoll said.
The ANWU hopes the new national register will help support those who have been exposed and assist with compensation should workers become sick in future.
“This exposure register is going to be an important diagnostic tool for people in the future … it’s going to be absolutely crucial that we have that health information” Dettmer said.
“The cancer, you can’t see it, you can’t feel it,” Hodgens said.
“You don’t know if you’ve been affected or what’s going to happen.
“It’s definitely concerning. You want to be there for your loved ones in the long term, but you’d hate to think that something you’ve done to provide for them is going to now affect your health and potentially shorten your time with them.”