Seyfarth Synopsis: In a new journal article from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s (CDC), National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health (NIOSH), and the Bacterial Special Pathogens Branch, researchers have identified specific cases of a deadly occupational disease, welder’s anthrax.

According to CDC, welder’s anthrax is a bacterial infection that results in severe pneumonia. The disease was caused by bacteria within the B. cereus group that produces anthrax toxin; these bacteria thrive in lungs affected by welding fumes and iron deposits. The disease has been identified in welders and metalworkers, all of whom were men with a median age of 39 years. The majority of cases have been identified in southern states. As a percentage of welders, the number of identified cases is still rare.

The CDC suggests, as with all other safety and health hazards, employers should use the standard hierarchy of controls to prevent workplace exposure to welding fumes and gases and soils that may be contaminated with B. cereus group bacteria producing anthrax toxins. This would include elimination of exposure to welding fumes where possible, then employing respiratory protection for employees welding.

Federal OSHA does not have an enforcement position yet requiring N95 or better masks for all employees performing welding tasks. However, with this new study, we may see OSHA define all iron welding to create a hazardous atmosphere, for which employees performing welding or working the vicinity would be required to both wear N95 or better masks and be part of a respiratory protection program, which would include medical evaluations, fit tests, PPE training. Seyfarth attorneys will be tracking OSHA publications to learn if the enforcement position changes.

Image from CDC.