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February 5, 2024

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

In September last year (2023), the Health and Safety Executive (HSE) announced it was carrying out inspections on manufacturing businesses that use metalworking fluids or coolants. Since then more than half of these checks have identified failings.

A local exhaust ventilation (LEV) was installed on the CNC machines after a HSE visit. Credit: HSE.

The highly technical, specialist field requires 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.

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. As such the HSE has created a quiz for employers to see how metalworking affects their workplaces.

Further reading: Metalworkers concern over lack of health and safety priorities

According to the HSE, three areas where manufacturing companies, particularly smaller companies, do not meet standards on compliance are:

  • Not having local exhaust ventilation
  • Not completing regular fluid quality checks
  • Failing to provide regular health checks for lung and skin conditions.

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.

“As a result, enforcement action is being taken against these manufacturers.

HSE Inspector, Fiona McGarry. Credit: HSE.

“The creation of the quiz is a really easy way for people to test their knowledge about how best they should be protecting workers.”

Control measures also lacking

Exposure to metalworking fluids – also referred to as ‘white water’ – can cause harm to the lungs and unprotected skin. Despite this, the regulator said that 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, HSE said that 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.

McGarry, added: “Lung problems and irritated skin don’t have to be associated with working with metalworking fluid if you take the right precautions.

“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.”

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

What makes us susceptible to burnout?

In this episode  of the Safety & Health Podcast, ‘Burnout, stress and being human’, Heather Beach is joined by Stacy Thomson to discuss burnout, perfectionism and how to deal with burnout as an individual, as management and as an organisation.

We provide an insight on how to tackle burnout and why mental health is such a taboo subject, particularly in the workplace.


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Susan Moore
Susan Moore
2 months ago

Where can I find the quiz – copied from the article –
“The creation of the quiz is a really easy way for people to test their knowledge about how best they should be protecting workers –

Mark Glover - SHP Editor
Mark Glover - SHP Editor
2 months ago
Reply to  Susan Moore

Hi Susan, the quiz can be found here: HSE metalworking fluids quiz (