HSE campaign highlights dangers from metalworking fluids

Summary of HSE Campaign

  • Regulator warns of risks and need for health checks.
  • HSE inspections targets use of specialist machines.
  • Director of inspected firm says “Don’t feel intimidated”.

Protecting Workers – A Priority

Businesses are warned to make sure their staff are safe when working with metalworking fluids or coolants.
A highly technical, specialist field applying precision engineering – but, it can also cause harm to the lungs and skin.
Past inspections by HSE, therefore uncovers poor performance control of metalworking fluids in businesses that use computer numerical control machines.

Dangers of Exposure

A local exhaust ventilation (LEV) system was installed on the CNC machines after a HSE visit.

Exposure to metalworking fluids, also referred to as ‘white water’, can as a result, cause harm to lungs and skin through inhalation or in addition, direct contact with unprotected skin; particularly the hands, forearms and face. Therefore, breathing in the mist generated by machining can lead to lung disease such as occupational asthma and occupational hypersensitivity pneumonitis.

Importantly, Manufacturing businesses should implement control measures, for example, carrying out health surveillance checks with occupational health professionals.

Safe Working Practices

HSE inspector Fiona McGarry, said: “Problems with lungs and skin irritation don’t have to be associated with working with metalworking fluid providing the right precautions are taken.
It’s really important that control measures and fluid quality checks are in place to keep workers healthy. Therefore, health checks are essential to identify signs of ill-health early.”

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.

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

Nottingham-based engineering firm CNTL Ltd, had a visit earlier this year. Dane Rawson, the firm’s director, was however, apprehensive at first, but soon saw the inspector was there to help.  He said: “I’m new to this side of the business, I haven’t dealt with a health and safety inspection before. At first, I was cautious, but it didn’t take long for the inspector to make us feel comfortable. She wasn’t trying to catch us out.”

Control Measures in place

In conclusion, the inspection shows the company having safe working practices in some areas, however, it was asked to install local exhaust ventilation (LEV) on its CNC machines.

Dane and the team have noticed the difference: “We have several high-tech machines that constantly use pressurised coolant – it’s bound to create a mist. It was something we were aware of and had explored the option of installing LEVs, however, as a result of HSE’s visit we wanted to follow their advice and action this sooner. We’ve noticed now, that the smell of coolant is no longer there and also air quality is much improved.”

“It’s definitely a cleaner and safer environment to work in. Importantly, the staff feel like we’ve done the right thing for them and know their wellbeing is a priority of ours.”

Tip: 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.

Control Measures in Place

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

Therefore, where there’s 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  encouraged to report any health symptoms that occur. Regular fluid checks are a part of CNTL’s weekly routine. They outsource to a company, carrying out weekly coolant and dip-slide checks.

HSE Inspection

The HSE inspection had a positive impact on Dane. He is now interested in protecting his team’s health as well as safety. He recently attended a trade fair in Germany, partly to understand the approach on the continent.

Dane’s message to any company that will be inspected by the HSE is simple: “Don’t feel intimidated. They above all, benefit you, your company and your staff.”

Safety Aide can assist your business regarding Health and Safety, including Risk Assessments,  please get in touch on 08000 806 801.