In a day when class action lawsuits centering on such things as asbestos, concussion injuries, or tobacco seem to be in the news quite often, don't expect to be reading about suits targeting welding rod manufacturers. Attorneys targeting those welding consumable manufacturers appear to have given up.
That point of view comes from Michael Degan, who works with the Gas and Welding Distributors Association and is a partner with the law firm of Husch Blackwell LLP. "… [R]umors have been floating that the steering committee for plaintiffs [in these suits against welding companies] has been negotiating a proposal to terminate all currently pending welding fume cases. Such an agreement would effectively end welding fume litigation as a mass tort," Degan wrote. You can read the synopsis here.
Even if such an agreement doesn't come to fruition, Degan writes that 2012 "should prove decisive" when it comes to these lawsuits. Already the momentum to bring these cases to court has slowed a great deal. The lack of defendant wins has proven to dampen trial lawyers' collective zeal to push these cases in court.
However, just because the welding companies have successfully stood their ground against charges that exposure to welding fumes leads to neurological disorders, that doesn't mean that metal fabricators and the industry suppliers should consider welding as safe as a walk on a beach. Welding still remains a potentially hazardous metal fabricating activity. There's a reason that the Occupational Safety and Health Administration has guidelines for exposure to welding fumes.
Metal fabricators need to put their welders in a position where they won't hurt themselves. Progressive companies ensure that welders have the right protective equipment and fume extraction devices when they are welding. Enlightened companies have their welders engaged in other activities, such as finishing or operating a machine tool, which keeps the workforce flexible and enables the welder to keep his head out of the shadow of an arc for a portion of the day.
Hopefully, the end of this lawsuit activity allows everyone to focus more intently on the task at hand: getting metal parts out of the door quickly and keeping employees safe while doing so.