Workers Exposed to Dermatitis Risk

An engineering company has been fined £20,000 incl of costs for failing to control the risk of its employees developing dermatitis following exposure to metalworking fluid.

Metalworking fluid is used, when using machinery such as lathes and milling machines to lubricate and cool workpieces and is classed as a substance hazardous to health. Exposure to metalworking fluid can lead to the development of serious illness which can have serious, life-changing health effects, including dermatitis and asthma.

During the investigation, HSE deemed that the company had failed to ensure adequate measures were in place to control exposure to metalworking fluids and had therefore exposed their employees to risk and the court agreed that Regulation 7(1) of the Control of Substances Hazardous to Health had been contravened.

Appropriate controls that could have been used include well-fitting overalls, use of gloves when in contact with contaminated workpieces, avoidance of the use of airlines for cleaning activities, and the provision of an effective skincare regime.

The Control of Substances Hazardous to Health Regulations (COSHH) requires exposure to metalworking fluids by inhalation, ingestion or skin contact to be prevented where reasonably practicable, or failing that, adequately controlled. As the duty holders, employers should therefore:

  • Carry out a suitable and sufficient risk assessment.
  • Maintain fluid quality and control bacterial contamination of fluids.
  • Minimise skin exposure to fluids.
  • Prevent or control airborne mists.
  • Where there is exposure to fluid or mist, carry out health surveillance.

To achieve the necessary control and risk reduction you will need to:

  • Check and maintain exposure control measures, such as enclosures and local exhaust ventilation.
  • Check levels of bacterial contamination using dip slides, or other means of measuring the level of bacterial activity, in both metalworking and associated fluids e.g., in washing machines, and act on the readings obtained in line with your risk assessment.
  • Ensure that, as a minimum, a responsible person carries out the required health surveillance.
  • Conduct asthma health checks.
  • Refer anyone affected by exposure to a competent occupational health professional.
  • Take prompt action after any diagnosis of ill health to identify the likely cause and ensure it is prevented or adequately controlled.
  • Inform your workers of all findings.

If this alert has raised questions or you need to discuss any other health & safety-related issue do not hesitate to contact your Health & Safety Consultant or Kingfisher Professional Services main office on 0333 996 0666 for advice/assistance.