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July 29, 2010

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Guidance – Prosecution emphasised need for metal-working advice

New guidance on how to manage the health risks related to metal-working fluids has been published online by EEF, the manufacturers’ organisation.

Metal-working fluids are used widely across a whole range of manufacturing businesses, particularly in engineering and technology-based companies. They are added to water and sprayed on to the work piece during machining to cool and lubricate the operation.

However, they have long-been associated with a risk of dermatitis and breathing problems and, more recently, have been linked to major outbreaks of respiratory disease, notably asthma and alveolitis.

A need for clearer guidance on metal-working fluids was identified in the wake of the prosecution, in December last year, of Koyo Bearings (Europe) Ltd, whose workers were exposed to a hazardous mist emitted from metal-working machinery used to make bearings for the automotive industry.

Between 2005 and 2009, there were 15 reported cases of occupational asthma or extrinsic allergic alveolitis among workers at the factory – amounting to the second-largest exposure of its kind in the UK at a single firm. 

There is currently no exposure limit for metal-working fluids and, according to the EEF, outbreaks of respiratory disease strongly suggest that a previous guidance value of 1mg/m3 was insufficient to protect workers, and has now been withdrawn. There is also some concern about the reliability and consistency of sampling procedures for metal-working fluids.

To clarify for employers the circumstances in which certain control measures are appropriate, the new guidance provides a six-point control plan, relating to:
•    risk assessment;
•    controlling exposure;
•    controlling bacterial contamination;
•    maintaining fluid quality;
•    providing health surveillance; and
•    providing information, instruction and training.
It also identifies the main factors that affect the amount of mist arising from metal-working operations, including the speed of movement of the work piece and/or tool; the pressure of application of the fluid; and the geometry of the work piece and/or work-holding arrangement.

EEF’s head of health and safety policy, Steve Pointer, said: “HSE is conducting a programme of research to help answer the current uncertainties about exactly how respiratory diseases are caused. However, in the meantime, engineering companies need some clear guidance as to what is expected of them.  €ᄄ

€ᄄ“They need help identifying which machines and processes present the greatest risk and require more stringent controls, such as enclosure and extraction ventilation, and which do not. We have produced this guidance to fill the gap and help companies identify where they need to target their efforts and resources.”€ᄄ 

The free guidance has been agreed by the HSE, whose head of manufacturing, Geoff Cox, said: “We were pleased to be consulted during the production of EEF’s guide, which complements the existing guidance on HSE’s website by providing sensible and practical advice on the types of machinery most likely to give rise to a risk.

“It should prove helpful to companies when assessing risks from metal-working fluids and enable them to prioritise their actions to achieve effective control.” €ᄄ €ᄄThe free guidance is available at www.eef.org.uk/metalworkingfluids

Approaches to managing the risks associated Musculoskeletal disorders

In this episode of the Safety & Health Podcast, we hear from Matt Birtles, Principal Ergonomics Consultant at HSE’s Science and Research Centre, about the different approaches to managing the risks associated with Musculoskeletal disorders.

Matt, an ergonomics and human factors expert, shares his thoughts on why MSDs are important, the various prevalent rates across the UK, what you can do within your own organisation and the Risk Management process surrounding MSD’s.

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