In construction there may be a time when employees need to weld on galvanized metal. This poses a unique problem since the zinc oxide fume can cause metal fume fever.  Should employees wear a respirator? Should mechanical ventilation be used? Should they drink milk? before? during and after welding? 

As with my answers to all welding types:  it depends.

However, I will make some generalizations. I have not seen a lot, or high airborne exposures (to zinc oxide) during galvanized steel welding. But, I typically recommend that welders are prepared and ready to wear a respirator if the need occurs. Welding is so variable, it is hard to make generalizations that cover all aspects.

Some questions that I ask before issuing respirators include:

  • Does the welder have experience and training with this type of welding?
  • How long will the welding occur?
  • Is it spot welding? or for a duration of time?
  • Is there mechanical ventilation in place, and can it be used for the entire project?
  • Is there any portion of the welding that will be in a confined area with limited ventilation?
  • Are there any coatings on the metal? Lubricants?

Once a respirator is decided to be issued, I only recommend a 1/2 face tight fitting respirator with HEPA filters. I know that N95 and other types of filtering dust masks do provide protection, but they, in my opinion, are not adequate if you really need them.

And, as far as drinking milk. If you feel sick after welding- drink it. It won’t hurt.