Keeping Machine Shop Workers Safe: Occupational Exposure to Metalworking Fluids
Posted on June 6, 2016
There are many manufacturing jobs that exist, each with their own set of hazards. For machine shop employees who work with metalworking fluids (MWFS), designed to cool their machines and remove metal particulates produced as the machines operate, potential hazards stem from exposure to these common substances. Workers can breathe in aerosols created from machining, which can cause respiratory conditions such as hypersensitivity pneumonitis, chronic bronchitis, impaired lung function and asthma. MWFs can potentially cause skin allergies or dermatitis (skin rash) if splashed onto exposed skin, or worse, respiratory conditions including hypersensitivity pneumonitis (HP), chronic bronchitis, impaired lung function, and asthma. Additionally, metalworking fluids can become breeding grounds for bacteria, especially if they’re not drained and replaced regularly. If left uncontrolled, these bacteria-ridden MFWs can contribute to indoor air quality issues, such as foul odors, and skin and eye irritation, which can lead to the conditions and issues already mentioned.
To prevent the accumulation of metal particulate or harmful bacteria, employers should take care to follow manufacturer’s recommendations for coolant maintenance schedules. They should also carefully review the personal protective equipment (PPE) used by machinists, especially gloves, aprons, and safety glasses or goggles, to make sure they provide sufficient protection against exposure. The National Institute of Occupational Safety and Health (NIOSH) has developed a Recommended Exposure Limit (REL) for indoor air concentrations of MWF aerosols. The Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) has published a Safety and Best Practices Manual to provide additional guidance.
Employers can also review the MWFs used in their workplaces and consider the feasibility of replacing them with fluids that contain safer, less irritating ingredients. A seamless electronic chemical management solution can be a powerful tool for doing this, allowing businesses to easily track the locations and quantities of chemicals they have, and to easily search for less hazardous replacements. A good risk analysis system can also be a valuable tool to assess, identify, and mitigate hazards before they lead to employee injuries, chemical spills or other avoidable issues.
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