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Calling All Metal Workers - Inspections!

The Health and Safety Executive (HSE) will be conducting inspections on manufacturing businesses employing metalworking fluids or 'white water' in machining processes until March 2024.

Exposure to metalworking fluids poses risks to both respiratory and skin health. The primary goal of health surveillance is the early detection of work-related health issues.

A frequent lapse in compliance, particularly among smaller companies, is the failure to provide regular health surveillance.

Focus on Respiratory and Skin Conditions: Distinct from general health screening, health surveillance focuses on identifying work-induced health problems. Those working with metalworking fluids face potential lung diseases and skin irritation (dermatitis) through mist inhalation or direct contact.

HSE's recent statistics (2022-2023) reveal:

  • Approximately 12,000 deaths linked to lung diseases resulting from hazardous substance exposure at work.

  • An estimated 19,000 new cases of respiratory problems attributed to work.

  • The manufacturing industry exhibits a significantly higher rate of occupational asthma compared to the average.

  • Metalworking machine operatives experience higher dermatitis rates compared to other occupational groups.

Legal Requirements: Health surveillance involves periodic health checks aimed at identifying work-related illnesses. Even with preventive measures like fluid quality checks and local exhaust ventilation (LEV) in place, the law mandates health surveillance in the presence of fluid or mist exposure.

Selecting the Right Scheme for Your Business: Engage an occupational health professional with relevant expertise to assess health risks in your business. They will assist in developing the health surveillance scheme and training responsible individuals as needed.

Consult with trade union safety representatives, employee representatives, and affected employees before implementing health surveillance.

Encourage workers to promptly report any health symptoms rather than waiting for scheduled health checks. Establish a clear reporting system for such cases.

Further Insights on Control Measures

Work-related lung diseases can profoundly impact the lives of workers. However, with effective controls in place, occupational lung diseases become preventable. The insights gained from health surveillance feedback can offer valuable information on the efficacy of your control measures in safeguarding workers.

Two pivotal control measures for those working with metalworking fluids are:

  1. Local Exhaust Ventilation (LEV):

  • Essential for minimising inhalation exposure to metalworking fluid mist.

  • Installation of LEV is crucial on CNC machines where operators face exposure to metalworking fluid mist.

  • It serves as the primary control measure to reduce the risk of inhalation.

  1. Maintaining Fluid Quality:

  • Over time, water-mix metalworking fluid undergoes deterioration, leading to potential contamination with harmful bacteria and other substances.

  • Rigorous monitoring and consistent maintenance of fluid quality are imperative in effectively managing and mitigating risks associated with metalworking fluids.

These control measures not only play a vital role in preventing work-related lung diseases but also contribute to the overall protection of workers. Regular assessments and adjustments based on health surveillance feedback ensure the ongoing effectiveness of these measures.


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