In its latest campaign launched on the 4th May 2021, The Health and Safety Executive (HSE) is inspecting fabricated metal businesses across Great Britain to check that they are managing the respiratory risks of welding fumes and metalworking fluids.

Their inspectors will be targeting businesses whose employees undertake welding and use metalworking fluids, to check that they are complying with the welding fumes guidance and metalworking fluid guidance. During visits, duty holders will need to demonstrate they have measures in place to manage risks to protect their workers from occupational lung disease to keep workers healthy and safe.

There is scientific evidence that exposure to welding fumes can cause lung cancer and exposure to metalworking fluids can cause a range of lung diseases, including occupational asthma and occupational hypersensitivity pneumonitis (OHP), which are debilitating diseases with life changing impact.

Inspectors will be looking for evidence of employers and workers knowing the risks, planning their work and using the right controls to protect workers’ health. If necessary, they will use enforcement to make sure workers are protected.

While CNC machines are the ones most likely to produce metalworking fluid mists, which could cause respiratory problems, any machine on a site such as bandsaws, pillar drills, grinders etc. all use lubrication and any coolants or cutting fluids must be checked to ensure they are not contaminated and potentially liable to cause skin issues.

Likewise, CNC coolant / lubricant tanks should be part of a test regimen to ensure they are not contaminated and putting employee’s health at risk.  Maintenance records for machinery, where for example, signs of oil leaks are present, could also be subject to scrutiny, as tramp oil created by leaks mixing with coolants, can cause bacterial growth that could affect both skin and respiratory systems.

Fortunately, in the UK, there are a number of leading providers of engineering controls and LEV systems for dealing with both welding fumes and metalworking fluids including mist control and cleaning on sumps and tanks, that industry can be called upon to provide the mechanical controls needed.

However, even though the inspections will be targeting lung health, if a HSE inspector identifies while on site, any other areas of concern, they will take the necessary enforcement action to ensure these are dealt with. This will include making sure that businesses are COVID-secure and doing all they can to protect their workers from the risk of coronavirus.

Employers and workers are legally obligated to be aware of the risks associated with any activities they undertake in the course of their working day. They must recognise any dangers and manage risks through reducing exposure. This starts with completing a suitable and sufficient risk assessment, ensuring that the hierarchy of control is applied, such as using local exhaust ventilation (LEV) and other engineering methods to protect workers, who themselves need to be properly trained and competent.  Businesses must not solely rely on using respiratory protective equipment (RPE) to protect workers, without ensuring that other technologies cannot and are not being used first.

Article written by Richard Heath, Health, Safety and Environment Officer at the Cast Metals Federation.