Metalworking fluid (MWF) is a term that refers to the spectrum of oils and other substances that are used to cool and/or lubricate metal pieces as they are ground, machined, or milled. MWFs decrease friction and head between work pieces and cutting tools, which assists in preventing smoking and burning.
MWFs also improve workpiece quality by continually taking chips, fines, and swarfs or small metal pieces from the tool at hand and the workpiece surface. There are four basic MWF classes: straight oils, soluble or emulsifiable oils, semi-synthetic fluids, and synthetic fluids. Each class may contain additives such as corrosion inhibitors and stabilizers.
Welding professionals that are exposed to cutting fluids or metalworking fluids may face severe long-term consequences such as varying respiratory diseases like hypersensitivity pneumonitis. MWFs also cause adverse health effects via skin contact with corrupted materials, mists, sprays, and through the inhalation of MWF aerosol that can result in contact dermatitis or acne.
There are millions of manufacturing employees who are exposed to MWFs through their work with automobiles, aircraft, farm equipment, heavy machinery, and other hardware. There are several critical ways that you can avoid the hazards of metalworking fluid exposure. They are as follows:
- Selecting the right fluidsFluid suppliers are familiar with the health effects associated with varying fluids. They can provide a wealth of up to date information about the safety of your particular fluids. Some systems may even be able to offer further assistance, such as a customer support program. Choosing a reputable supplier ensures that your fluids meet government safety and environment regulatory guidelines. As you select fluids, consider fluid component toxicity, flammability, and disposal.
- Controlling the occupational exposuresThere are a wealth of established principles including administrative controls, engineering, and work practice controls that can affect occupational exposures. You can apply these principles to the general workplace environment, at the hazard source, and at the point of exposure for individuals. Typically, work practice and engineering controls applied directly at the hazard source are the most effective control tactics. These controls may include proper MWF delivery system design and operation, isolation, effective general or dilution ventilation, local exhaust ventilation, strong machinist work practices including use of controls, and proper equipment maintenance.
- Wearing personal protective equipment (PPE)There are certain instances where protective clothing and/or respirators can prevent MWFs from getting in contact with the skin. In order to determine if a situation warrants PPE, the employer should conduct a survey to pinpoint potential health and safety hazards such as chemical exposure, high temperatures, and machine noise. Depending on the particular situation, employees may need to wear long sleeves and pants, aprons, hats, gloves, masks, respirators, and safety glasses.
- Practicing good personal hygienePersonal hygiene is critical for preventing skin disorders. Employees must clean potentially contaminated skin, particularly before breaks and meals, with clean hot water, gentle soaps, and clean towels. They should also be encouraged to minimize contact with MWF whenever possible, which includes avoiding direct repeated contact with unprotected hands, arms, and MWFs. Employees should also change out of contaminated clothing before leaving the workplace.
- Practicing good housekeeping, periodic inspection and maintenance, and supervisionTrained, equipped personnel must be responsible for cleaning the floors, equipment, and general work MWF environment. Spills should be cleaned up immediately. Afterwards, make sure that the rags are placed in airtight metal receptacles. Another key work practice control is inspecting and maintaining the process and control equipment on a regular basis. Finally, supervision ensures that employees are sticking to proper work practices and wearing the necessary clothing and equipment.
- Establishing and adhering to a metalworking fluid management programA metalworking fluid management system takes the comprehensive system into account, allowing a company to address issues systematically and thoroughly. The primary fluid management program components should be as follows: designation of overarching responsibility for system performance, designation of adding materials responsibility, a standard operating procedure for fluid testing in writing, a data collection and tracking system, training programs, and employee participation.
- Implementing periodic medical monitoringInnovative engineering, proper work place controls, and MWF management program implementation go a long way toward regulating MWF exposure. However, these elements do not completely eliminate the possibility of injury or illness due to MWF exposure. Periodic monitoring helps identify early symptoms of skin disorders and respiratory disease due to control system failure, sub-par respirator, or hygiene programs. Taking preventative action also decreases the incidence and severity of lung and skin diseases.