Metalworking Fluid and the Use of Compressed Airguns in Cleaning Machinery

December 8, 2022
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The HSE has highlighted the dangers of water-mix metalworking fluids (MWF) and the use of compressed air guns for cleaning machinery. MWFs are primarily used as a means of cooling machined parts in cutting and grinding machines.

Compressed air guns are often used for cleaning machined components. However this can increase health risks as a mist can be created which will include droplets of MWFs which are small enough to be inhaled.

Inhalation of MWFs can lead to many health issues such as occupational asthma, occupational hypersensitivity pneumonitis, bronchitis and lung cancer and irritation of the upper respiratory tract. Alongside this, direct contact with MWFs without the correct protection can cause irritation of the skin and potential dermatitis. Further issues can also be caused if the MWF enters cuts or other broken areas of the skin.

The report describes discussions at an expert workshop during 2019 in which representatives from the machining industry, lubricant manufacturers, and general workers discussed the use of MWF with compressed air guns as a method of cooling and cleaning machined components.

In general the attendees were aware of the dangers of MWFs but were unaware that the dangers of MWF were an issue during in the cleaning process. They were aware of the dangers of MWF however believed this danger to be during the production process with metal working machines. Instead the initial concern in respect to health for the experts regarded the noise generated by compressed air guns and the risk of injury if a compressed air gun was directed at the eyes of a worker.

They also stated that despite there being health concerns regarding compressed air guns with MWFs they remained the most effective tool at cleaning this kind of machinery without damaging it. They were aware of newer air gun designs which reduced aerosol mists produced and prevented MWF droplets from splashing back onto the operator but the general lack of understanding for the dangers of MWF in the cleaning process and the high cost of the new tools had prevented the widespread adoption of the new designs.

Overall it was concluded that there needed to be a wider discussion of cleaning methods within the industry and a greater understanding of the dangers of MWF during the cleaning process.

The HSE’s advice regarding MWFs remains unchanged. Suitable and sufficient risk assessments must be undertaken where work is done with metal working fluids. Skin exposure to fluids should be minimised and when there is a fluid or mist, such as during the cleaning process, health surveillance for employees must be carried out.

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