Welding can be dangerous, as most welders and their supervisors know well. Respirators and protective face shields, gloves, and coveralls are standard. But, welders and other workers exposed to metal fumes also should protect themselves against infectious disease, a study in England now finds. A simple vaccination can protect them against the serious lung diseases that they are statistically more prone to endure, and may even save their lives.

A review of the occupational health statistics by scientists at Great Britain’s University of Southampton and published in the journal Occupational Medicine, found that welders die more often from certain types of pneumonia. They recommended that welders should be offered the Pneumococcal polysaccharide (PPV23) vaccine so that potentially fatal lung disease can be prevented.

According to the study, by Keith Palmer, Professor of Occupational Medicine at the University’s MRC Lifecourse Epidemiology Unit, and M.P. Cosgrove of TWI, the British welding R&D organization, the specific bacterium to which welders are highly susceptible is the pneumococcous (Streptococcus pneumoniae.) Data indicates welders are up to six times more likely to suffer from Pneumococcal pneumonia, a disease that usually affects very young and elderly individuals, and those with impaired immunity.

Late last year, the U.K. Department of Health’s advised that welders should be added to the list of patient groups for whom pneumococcal vaccination is recommended.

Palmer and Cosgrove report that “there is consistent evidence that welders die more often of pneumonia, especially lobar pneumonia, are hospitalized more often for lobar and pneumococcal pneumonia, and more often develop invasive pneumococcal disease.”

“Many employers are unaware that exposure to welding fume can cause pneumonia. Although fatal cases are rare, they can occur,” according to Palmer, who is the lead author of the review. “Companies need to ensure that anyone who undertakes welding work or is exposed to metal fumes is offered the vaccination. They also need to advise workers how to reduce their exposure to the fumes as much as possible and encourage them not to smoke.”

The review also highlighted the importance of ensuring that welders or anyone exposed to harmful fumes are given appropriate protective equipment, and follow other safety advice to minimize exposure.

“This is an important message,” Dr Richard Heron, president of the Britain’s Society of Occupational Medicine said. “There are probably between 50,000 and 70,000 welders in the U.K. who stand to gain. The review explains that the benefit of providing vaccinations is likely to be comparable to that of taking aspirin for a year to prevent a heart attack or cardiac death. At the same time, we should always remember that prevention is better than cure - vaccination is not a substitute for good control of workplace exposure."