HSE highlights dangers from metalworking fluids

Businesses are being warned to make sure their staff are safe when working with metalworking fluids or coolants.

It’s a highly technical, specialist field applying precision engineering – but can also cause harm to the lungs and skin.

Past inspections by the Health and Safety Executive (HSE) have uncovered poor performance around the control of metalworking fluids in businesses that use computer numerical control (CNC) machines.

Exposure to metalworking fluids – also referred to as ‘white water’ – can cause harm to the lungs and skin through inhalation or direct contact with unprotected skin; particularly the hands, forearms and face.

Breathing in the mist generated by machining can lead to lung diseases such as occupational asthma and occupational hypersensitivity pneumonitis.

Manufacturing businesses should implement control measures and carry out health surveillance checks with occupational health professionals.

More about the campaign, and tips on how to keep workers safe, can be found here.

HSE inspector Fiona McGarry, said: “Lung problems and irritated skin don’t have to be associated with working with metalworking fluid if you take the right precautions.

“It is really important that control measures and fluid quality checks are in place to keep workers healthy. Health checks are essential to identify signs of ill-health early.”

To support the campaign, HSE will carry out inspections to look at how employers are ensuring workers are protected from exposure to fluid or mist generated by CNC machines across Great Britain.

Britain’s workplace regulator plans to carry out unannounced inspections between now and March 2024.

To reduce exposure, you need control measures in place. Local exhaust ventilation (LEV) should be fitted on CNC machines to carry away any harmful metalworking fluid mist, which is difficult to see in normal lighting.

Fluid quality should be regularly checked focusing on concentration, pH, bacteria and contaminants. Fluid systems can become highly contaminated with harmful bacteria.

Where there is exposure to fluid or mist, it is a legal requirement to carry out health surveillance even when preventative controls are in place. You will need to involve an occupational health professional and workers should be encouraged to report any health symptoms that occur.

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This article was adapted from an article by the HSE which can be found here.