In the first European Community Respiratory Health Survey (ECRHS I), an excess asthma risk was associated with high exposure to gases and fumes, mineral and biological dusts. In a 9-year follow-up study (ECRHS II), the aim was to study if welding at work increases the risk of asthma symptoms, wheeze and chronic bronchitis symptoms. The study also aimed to identify specific welding risk factors. In a random population sample of individuals from 22 European centres in 10 countries, 316 males reported welding at work during the follow-up period. These individuals responded to a supplemental questionnaire about frequency of welding, use of different methods and materials, welding environment and respiratory protection. Cumulative exposure to welding fumes for the follow-up period was estimated by using a database on welding fume exposures. Log-binomial regression models were used to estimate prevalence ratios (PR) with 95% confidence intervals (CIs) for prevalence of asthma symptoms or asthma medication, wheeze and chronic bronchitis symptoms in relation to welding methods and welded materials as well as estimated cumulative welding fume exposure compared to an external reference group. In the study population of 316 males, 62% performed welding <1 h day(-1), 23% 1-3 h day(-1) and 15% > 4 h day(-1). Welding was a common task in many occupations and only 7% of the individuals actually called themselves welders and flame cutters, while the largest groups doing welding worked in construction or were motor, agricultural and industrial mechanics and fitters. Welding at work was not associated with an increased prevalence of asthma symptoms or wheeze but there was an association with chronic bronchitis symptoms (PR = 1.33, 1.00-1.76). Using assigned cumulative exposure in tertiles showed that the lowest exposed tertile had the highest PR of bronchitis symptoms. Chronic bronchitis symptoms was significantly higher in those frequently welding in galvanized steel or iron (PR = 2.14, 1.24-3.68) and in those frequently manual welding stainless steel (PR = 1.92, 1.00-3.66). There was also an increase in the prevalence of wheeze in individuals welding painted metal (PR = 1.66, 0.99-2.78; PR = 1.83, 0.90-3.71). Welding with manual metal arc technique <1 day week(-1) showed a prevalence risk of 1.69 for wheeze (CI = 1.16-2.46). In conclusion, the present study shows an association between welding in galvanized material and stainless steel and chronic bronchitis symptoms. There was also an increased prevalence of wheeze and welding in painted metal. The results support that welding in coated material is a respiratory hazard underscoring the importance of preventive actions.
A population-based study on welding exposures at work and respiratory symptoms