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Last updated: March 1, 2018

What Does Fumes Mean?

Fumes are the vapor, dust, or smoke emitted by a substance due to heating, explosion, or some other reaction. Fumes can be described as very fine solid particles—such as solidified vapor—suspended in the air.

The term typically conveys that a substance is an irritating, hazardous, or toxic substance. Industrial activities that create fumes, such as welding, can pose a significant exposure hazard to worker health and safety.

Safeopedia Explains Fumes

There are several types of fumes that can pose significant exposure hazards in the workplace. Many fumes have legal occupational exposure limits associated with them because they can harm worker health. The American Conference of Governmental Hygienists (ACGIH) also issues recommended exposure limits for many types of fumes.

Welding activity is one of the most significant sources of fume hazards. Welding fumes are formed when a metal is heated above its boiling point and the resultant vapor condenses into very fine solid particulates. The health effects from welding fumes can include respiratory damage, kidney damage, bone problems, central nervous system damage, increased risk of cancer, “Metal Fume Fever,” and irritation to the skin, eyes, nose, and throat.

Exposure to fume hazards can be limited through workplace design principles, such as ensuring that an activity occurs in an open space, or through the use of ventilation controls. The use of personal protective and respiratory equipment is necessary if the presence of dangerous levels of fumes is unavoidable. Personal protective equipment (PPE) such as dust masks and some respirators are not effective protection against toxic fumes. Any PPE that is used should be specifically rated for fume protection.


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