100 million gallons of metalworking fluids are produced every year, impacting over 1 million employees. These fluids are used to lubricate metal parts, prevent corrosion, remove chips from tools, and are used in grinding, boring and cutting operations. Workers exposed to fluids can experience skin disorders, skin irritations, throat irritations, eye injuries, and respiratory problems.
Metalworking fluids consist of a wide variety of oils, detergents, surfactants, lubricants, and corrosion-protection agents.
Everyday oils and fluids found in an industrial setting
All metalworking fluids have their own specific safety issues. Luckily, good practices and adequate protective equipment can help manage the dangers of interacting with metalworking fluids on a day-to-day basis.
Health and Safety Hazards
What are the hazards of using metalworking fluids?
- Contact dermatitis. This is a red, itchy skin rash that develops from direct exposure to an irritating agent. Once a worker has been exposed to a chemical, they become sensitized, making it easier and easier for a smaller amount of contact to result in rashes.
The 6016B Grippaz glove is excellent for use around Metalworking Fluid
- Asthma, chronic bronchitis, and hypersensitivity pneumonitis. While these three are very different conditions, all three respiratory diseases can be caused from exposure to metalworking fluids that are used in mist or aerosol spray form. They can result in lifelong damage to the lungs.
- Cancers of the pancreas, larynx, skin, and bladder. All these types of cancer have been associated with the use of metalworking fluids over time. While the use of known carcinogens in these products has greatly reduced over the last 40 years, long-term exposure to metalworking fluids should still be avoided.
- Slip and fall hazards. Many metalworking fluids are designed to create slick surfaces. This is helpful for maintaining machine parts, but can cause accidents if allowed to collect on floors.
- Accidental drops. Tools, parts, and materials may become slippery, making it much easier for a worker to lose their grip and drop heavy or dangerous loads.
MCR Safety’s FLT coated gloves are breathable, lightweight, and excellent for gripping objects in oily conditions.
- Eye injuries. While most metalworking fluids are unlikely to cause immediate injury due to skin exposure, direct contact with the eyes can be more hazardous.
MCR Safety’s lined eyewear styles are excellent in sealing a worker’s eyes from hazards.
Taking proper precautions around metalworking fluids is a key part of maintaining a safe shop environment.
When working with metalworking fluids, it’s important to follow good shop practices in order to keep yourself and others safe.
- Housekeeping. Clean any spills immediately and store containers correctly. Make sure that old and contaminated fluids are not used and that machines are kept clean. Keep food and drink away from areas in which metalworking fluids are used.
- Hygiene. Regular and correct hand washing is critical, especially before eating. Make sure that clothes contaminated with metalworking fluids are changed so that workers are not putting dirty clothing over clean skin.
- Regular inspections. Improperly functioning equipment can result in increased exposure to harmful fluids. Always make sure that equipment is in proper working order, including any fluid delivery, fluid filtration, exhaust, and mist-reduction systems.
Personal Protective Equipment (PPE)
The type of PPE required for any given job will depend on the equipment you’re using. Be sure to read all safety information for the equipment you will be using, and never use anything that you haven’t been trained to use safely and correctly.
- Gloves. Waterproof gloves should always be used when working directly with chemicals and cleaning up spills. When cleaning equipment, you should also look for a glove with a good grip to avoid accidental drops. The PredaStretch MG9648 is a great example of a glove that both protects and provides grip.
The MG9648 is extremely flexible and provides excellent sense-of-touch for cleaning up metal workpieces and equipment.
Keep in mind that gloves should not be used around all machines. In these cases, it’s especially important to use proper guarding and consider using a glove clip, like our UCDO shown in the next image.
- Glasses. For those working with machines, the same safety glasses (like RP210DC) that protect from flying debris, will also keep your eyes safe from metalworking fluids. If you’re handling chemicals directly, you’ll want goggles with indirect venting, such as the Hydroblast 2.
- Gear. Protective sleeves, pants, aprons, and boots should all be used as necessary. While these are not unique to the use of metalworking fluids, it’s important that they are checked for contamination and kept clean.
Do you have questions about machine shop safety?
Machine shop workers face all kinds of hazards when metalworking. Our Metal Fabrication page highlights the hazards found in machine shops. Click on the below image and see the metalworking PPE solutions offered.
For over 40 years, MCR Safety has proven to be a leader in gloves, glasses, and garments. Whether it’s on the shop floor, an oil rig, or construction site, we are there providing solutions to workplace hazards. We Protect People!