In September last year, the Health and Safety Executive (HSE) began conducting inspections checking how workers are protected from metalworking fluid exposure across Great Britain.
The results were alarming: over half of the checks revealed deficiencies. This is a highly specialized field that applies precision engineering, but it can also harm the lungs and skin. HSE asserts that more must be done to safeguard workers.
The annual statistics for 2022/23 reveal that 12,000 people die annually from lung diseases linked to exposure to hazardous substances at work. Furthermore, 19,000 new cases of breathing and lung problems are believed to have been caused or exacerbated by work. The manufacturing industry has a significantly higher than average rate of occupational asthma.
Exposure to metalworking fluids, also known as ‘white water,’ can harm the lungs and unprotected skin. Despite this, many inspected firms were not conducting health checks, which are legally required where there is exposure to fluid or mist.
HSE inspector Fiona McGarry said:
“It is clear that not enough is being done to protect workers and keep them safe and healthy.
“Our inspections found that there are still far too many businesses which do not have key control measures or health surveillance in place."
To address this, HSE has launched an online quiz as part of an ongoing campaign. This tool aims to test and improve knowledge about safety measures in the industry.
McGarry emphasized that lung problems and skin irritation don’t have to be associated with working with metalworking fluid if the right precautions are taken.
There are three areas where manufacturing companies, particularly smaller companies, commonly fall down on compliance:
The inspections so far also found poor performance around the control of metalworking fluids in businesses that use computer numerical control (CNC) machines.
To protect workers, employers should reduce exposure by putting control measures in place. Local Exhaust Ventilation (LEV) should be fitted on CNC machines to carry away any harmful metalworking fluid mist.
“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.”
More about the campaign, and tips on how to keep workers safe, can be found here: Machinists and metalworking fluid – Work Right to keep Britain safe
HSE will continue to conduct unannounced inspections until the end of March 2024.
Metalworking fluids: Most businesses inspected ‘not doing enough’ to protect workers by HSE, 16th January, 2024.