Safety alert: HSE metalworking inspection drive

By law, businesses need to prevent and minimise exposure to hazardous substances in the workplace, including exposure to metalworking fluids. These fluids (which can be referred to as ‘white water’) may cause harm to lungs and skin.  

Businesses using these fluids need to have health surveillance in place to detect and manage any symptoms of ill health caused by workplace exposure to metalworking fluids as early as possible.  

The Health and Safety Executive (HSE) has noted during inspections that many smaller manufacturing companies aren’t able to show they’re providing suitable and sufficient health surveillance, so they’re starting a targeted inspection drive between now and March 2024.  


What you need to do: 

  • Even if you have good controls in place, like Local Exhaust Ventilation (LEV), and complete regular fluid quality tests, health surveillance is a legal requirement when using cutting fluids. 
  • It’s needed for those who work with metalworking fluids or those who could be exposed through mist inhalation or direct contact, as it can cause lung diseases and irritated skin (dermatitis). 
  • Put in place the right scheme for your business by involving an occupational health professional with relevant competence, skills and experience for the health risks in your business. 
  • Make sure you consult with your workers before introducing health surveillance to your organisation. 
  • Once it’s in place, encourage your workers to report any health symptoms right away rather than waiting for the next scheduled health surveillance appointment. Make sure you brief your team on who to report these issues to. 


What is health surveillance? 

Put simply, health surveillance is a scheme of repeated health checks to identify ill health caused by work. With metalworking fluids, the focus should be on lung and skin conditions – which is different from the general health screening when employees first join your business. 


Why are the HSE looking at this? 

The HSE have compiled statistics relating to this and are focusing on health as part of their 10-year strategy. Their 2022/23 statistics show:  

  • Approximately 12,000 individuals suffered from lung diseases associated with exposure to hazardous substances in the workplace. 
  • An estimated 19,000 new instances of respiratory and lung issues, believed to be triggered or exacerbated by work, have been reported. 
  • The manufacturing industry has a significantly higher rate of occupational asthma compared to the average. 
  • Metalworking machine operatives experience markedly higher rates of dermatitis. 


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And, as always, if you have any questions or need any more support, just give your 24/7 Health & Safety advice line a call on 0345 844 4848* and one of our team will be happy to help.




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