HSE Investigates for Exposure to Metalworking Fluids

In September 2023, the Health and Safety Executive (HSE) initiated a crucial investigation focusing on metal fluid exposure in the workplace. The inspections, which have been ongoing, revealed that more than half of the checks identified failings in ensuring the safety of workers in this highly technical and specialised field of precision engineering. While this industry is known for its precision work, exposure to metalworking fluids can pose significant risks to the lungs and skin.

Statistics for 2022/23 reveal alarming figures, with 12,000 annual deaths attributed to lung diseases from hazardous substance exposure. The manufacturing sector, particularly prone to occupational asthma, highlights the urgent need for improved safety measures.

Recognising this, the HSE has taken proactive steps, including the creation of an online quiz as part of an ongoing campaign to improve knowledge and awareness in this critical area. The HSE will continue its unannounced inspections until the end of March 2024. 

Inspection Insights

HSE inspections exposed deficiencies in key safety measures and health surveillance in numerous businesses. Enforcement actions have been taken against manufacturers with inadequate worker protection. CNC machine users also exhibited poor control of metalworking fluids.

Protective Measures and Enforcement

Exposure to metalworking fluids poses risks to both lungs and skin. Despite the danger, many businesses neglect necessary health checks, prompting the HSE to stress the importance of control measures and regular fluid checks. For CNC machine users, fitting Local Exhaust Ventilation (LEV) is recommended to eliminate harmful mist.

HSE Investigations

The Health and Safety Executive (HSE) is currently conducting investigations with a specific focus on how employers protect their workforce from exposure to fluid or mist generated by computer numerical control (CNC) machines. The inspections aim to ensure that essential safety measures are in place, highlighting three critical areas where many manufacturing companies, especially smaller ones, tend to fall short in compliance.

1. Local Exhaust Ventilation (LEV): One common area of non-compliance is the absence of local exhaust ventilation systems. These systems are crucial in removing harmful metalworking fluid mist, safeguarding workers from potential health risks.

2. Regular Fluid Quality Checks: Inspections have revealed a lapse in compliance when it comes to conducting regular fluid quality checks. Ensuring the quality of metalworking fluids is essential to prevent potential harm to workers, particularly through inhalation or skin contact.

3. Lack of Regular Health Checks: Many manufacturing companies, particularly smaller ones, neglect to provide regular health checks for lung and skin conditions. This oversight can have severe consequences as exposure to metalworking fluids can lead to respiratory issues such as occupational asthma and occupational hypersensitivity pneumonitis.

The HSE aims to ensure that manufacturing companies, regardless of their size, prioritise the health and safety of their workforce. It is a collective effort to create safer workplaces and mitigate the potential long-term health implications associated with exposure to metalworking fluids. 

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