OSHA Issues Metalworking Fluids Best Practices Guide

OSHA releases a new guide to help employers protect employees exposed to metalworking fluids.

The Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) is helping employers provide a safer workplace for workers exposed to metalworking fluids.

The publication of "Metalworking Fluids: Safety and Health Best Practices Manual" is the culmination of four years of work by the Metalworking Standards Advisory Committee, according to OSHA, whose goal was to help reduce the adverse health effects of working with metalworking fluids.

"Millions of workers in the manufacturing industry work with these types of fluids daily," said OSHA Administrator John L. Henshaw. "There is extensive scientific evidence that continued occupational exposure to metalworking fluids can have serious health risks. We believe this guide is an important first step in arming employers with viable preventative measures to help reduce those risks."

Metalworking fluids include a complex mixture of oils, detergents, lubricants and other potentially toxic ingredients, and are used mainly for their coolant, lubricating and corrosion resistant properties during machining operations. The manual provides general information about metalworking fluids and recommends a systems management approach to control exposure and minimize contact with the fluid. That strategy includes engineering and work practice controls such as machine enclosure, ventilation and the use of personal protective equipment.

The guide also recommends employers establish a fluid management program that includes designating responsibility of the system to one or more persons knowledgeable in the chemistry involved in metalworking processes. The program should also include standard operating procedures for testing fluids, a data collection and tracking system, employee participation in setting up and operating the overall system, and a continuing training program.

The guide includes recommendations for instituting an exposure monitoring program (air sampling) on, at minimum, an annual basis. The manual recommends that employee exposures be reevaluated whenever there are significant changes in production, equipment, or processes that may cause new or additional exposures to metalworking fluids.

Finally, the manual recommends a proactive medical monitoring program for exposed employees that will help identify early evidence of respiratory impairment or skin disease. That early identification will prompt corrective action, which will help reduce the incidence and severity of metalworking fluid-associated diseases.

Occupational exposure to these fluids can have harmful health effects and has been associated with skin problems such as contact dermatitis, and various respiratory diseases including bronchitis. A number of epidemiological studies revealed that exposures to metalworking fluids can cause substantially elevated risk of cancer of the pancreas, bladder, larynx, scrotum and rectum.

The Metalworking Fluids Best Practices Manual is not a new standard or regulation, and it creates no new legal obligations. It is advisory in nature, informational in content, and is intended for use by employers in providing a safe and healthful workplace for workers exposed to metalworking fluids. The manual can be found on OSHA's Web site at www.osha-slc.gov/SLTC/metalworkingfluids/metalworkingfluids_manual.html.

edited by Sandy Smith

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