In: Industrial Disease

Serious health breaches have been uncovered at Lantern Engineering Ltd, after it emerged that workers had been repeatedly exposed to metalworking fluid.

What is Metalworking Fluid (MWF)?

Metalworking fluids are neat oils or water-based fluids that provide lubrication and cooling during the machining and shaping of metals. They are sometimes alternatively referred to as suds, coolant, slurry or soap. Metalworking fluids are mostly applied by continuous jet, spray or hand dispenser and are dangerous if you inhale the mist, do not wash your hands before eating or receive direct contact with unprotected skin. Exposure to metalworking fluids can be extremely serious, and can cause:

  • Irritation of the skin or dermatitis
  • Lung diseases such as occupational asthma, occupational hypersensitivity pneumonitis, bronchitis, irritation of the upper respiratory tract and other breathing difficulties

In the case of Lantern Engineering Ltd, an investigation by HSE found that a water mix MWF was in use in the majority of machines including saws, machine centres and milling machines. None of these machines had local exhaust ventilation (LEV) and some door seals were observed to be in poor condition. The MWF sumps to some machines were in visibly poor condition, with fins, swarf and/or tramp oil being present.

After this investigation was carried out and it was proved that an employee’s diagnosis of occupational asthma was due to these substandard working conditions, Lantern Engineering Ltd pleaded guilty to breaching Section 2 (1) of the Health & Safety at Work etc Act 1974. The company was ultimately fined £15,000 and ordered to pay £7,500 in costs. After the hearing, HSE inspector Laura Hunter commented that, ‘The company’s failure to manage MWF exposed employees to risk…companies should be aware that HSE will not hesitate to take appropriate enforcement action against those that fall below the required standards.’

Employer’s Duty of Care

In any workplace, it is an employer’s duty to protect the health and safety of their employees or anyone who would be impacted by the standards of their business. In any workplace, the duty of care includes:

  • Ensuring that employees and any others are reasonably protected from anything that may cause harm, effectively controlling any risks to injury or health that could arise in the workplace.
  • Carrying out risk assessments to minimise risk to health and safety as much as possible.
  • Giving employees information about the risks in the workplace and how they are protected.
  • Giving employees full training, including in manual handling if that is applicable to their role.
  • Consulting employees about health and safety issues – this may be either through a safety representative who has been elected by the workforce or appointed by a trade union.

This particular case is an example of employers failing to sufficiently protect their employees from known harm. No one should be expected to put themselves at harm in their workplace, and your employer should always put your safety first.

Read more on our industrial disease claims solicitors page.

If you have been affected by the dangers in this particular workplace, or you have experienced a similar situation of negligence, then our experienced specialist solicitors can help you throughout your case.

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