Last reviewed 4 October 2021

Lantern Engineering Ltd has been fined £15,000 and ordered to pay £7500 costs after pleading guilty to health breaches after workers were exposed to metal working fluid (MWF).

MWF is hazardous to health, and exposure can cause health conditions including irritation of the skin/dermatitis, occupational asthma, bronchitis and irritation of the upper respiratory tract. Work-related asthma is a significant and growing problem with an estimated 1500-3000 new cases each year. According to the Health and Safety Executive, on average, up to 2003, at least 20 of these cases were associated with exposure to MWFs but it is thought many more cases go unrecognised.

Sheffield Magistrates’ Court heard that, in February 2016 the HSE visited Lantern’s site and required the company to provide health surveillance and manage MWF. However, later that year 2016 an employee was diagnosed with occupational asthma. An Improvement Notice was issued in December 2016 to develop a system for managing MWF.

Investigating HSE officers found that a water mix MWF was in use in the majority of machines including saws, machine centres and milling machines. None of these machines had local exhaust ventilation and some door seals were observed to be in poor condition. The MWF sumps to some machines were in visibly poor condition, with fines, swarf and/or tramp oil being present.

INDG365 provides guidance on working with MWFs, and advises the following precautions.

  • Follow the instructions and training given on safe systems of work when working with MWFs.

  • Use splash guards, where provided, to control splashing and misting.

  • Minimise the production of mist and vapour by controlling the volume and rate of delivery of the fluid to the cutting edge of the tool.

  • Use any enclosures or ventilation provided to remove or control any mist or vapour produced.

  • Allow a time delay before opening the doors on machine enclosures to ensure that all mist and vapour have been removed by the ventilation.

  • Report any damaged or defective splash guards, ventilation hoods or other control equipment.

  • Open workroom doors and windows to improve natural ventilation.

  • Do not use compressed air to remove excess MWFs from machined parts or plant or equipment.