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Metalworking inspections: health surveillance

Issued: 12 December 2023

Exposure to metalworking fluids can cause harm to lungs and skin. Health surveillance aims to detect any symptoms of ill health caused by work as early as possible. 

HSE will be inspecting manufacturing businesses that use metalworking fluids or ‘white water’ in their machining processes until March 2024. 

Not providing regular health surveillance is one of the common reasons that manufacturing companies fail to demonstrate compliance, particularly smaller companies.

What the law requires

Health surveillance is a scheme of repeated health checks which are used to identify ill health caused by work.

Where there is exposure to fluid or mist, it is a legal requirement to carry out health surveillance even when preventative controls, such as fluid quality checks and local exhaust ventilation (LEV), are in place.

Focus on lung and skin conditions

Health surveillance is used to identify ill health caused by work and is different to general health screening activities.

For those who work with metalworking fluid, exposure through mist inhalation or direct contact can cause lung diseases and irritated skin (dermatitis).

HSE’s latest statistics (2022 to 2023) show:  

  • an estimated 12,000 people died from lung diseases linked to exposure to hazardous substances at work 
  • an estimated 19,000 new cases of breathing and lung problems thought to be caused or made worse by work 
  • the manufacturing industry has a substantially higher rate than average for occupational asthma 
  • metalworking machine operatives have much higher dermatitis rates than many of the major groupings of occupations


Get the right scheme for your business

You will need to involve an occupational health professional who has the relevant competence, skills and experience for the health risks in your business.

They will help you develop your health surveillance scheme and can help train responsible persons to help deliver this where appropriate.

Remember to consult with your trade union safety representative, or employee representative, and the employees concerned before introducing health surveillance.

Encourage workers to report any health symptoms as and when they occur, rather than waiting for their next health check. You will need a clear system of who these should be reported to.  

Find out more about: 

More about control measures

Work-related lung diseases have a devastating impact on workers’ lives but when effective controls are in place, occupational lung diseases are preventable.

The feedback from your health surveillance can also provide information on whether your control measures are protecting workers. 

Two key control measures when working with metalworking fluids are: 

Local exhaust ventilation

LEV should be fitted to CNC machines where operators are exposed to metalworking fluid mist. It is the key control measure to reduce inhalation exposure.

For more information on Metalworking inspections: health surveillance talk to Altruisk Risk Management

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