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Metalworking fluids: Most businesses inspected ‘not doing enough’ to protect workers

Last year, the Health and Safety Executive (HSE) announced it was carrying out inspections and since then more than half of those checks have identified failings.

This is a highly technical, specialist field applying precision engineering – but it can also cause harm to the lungs and skin.

The HSE says more needs to be done to keep workers safe.

The annual statistics on work-related ill health and workplace injuries for 2022/23 show 12,000 people die each year from lung diseases linked to exposure to hazardous substances at work. In addition, 19,000 new cases of breathing and lung problems are thought to have been caused or made worse by work.

The manufacturing industry has a substantially higher rate than average for occupational asthma.

Exposure to metalworking fluids – also referred to as ‘white water’ – can cause harm to the lungs and unprotected skin. Despite this, many of the firms inspected were not carrying out health checks. Health surveillance is a legal requirement where there is exposure to fluid or mist.

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.

For more information about the ongoing campaign, and tips on how to keep workers safe:

The HSE will continue to carry out unannounced inspections between now and the end of March 2024.

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