Metalworking fluids: 'white water' inspections

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Metalworking fluid or ‘white water’ inspections

Since October, HSE has been inspecting manufacturing businesses that use metalworking fluids in their machining processes, with more than half of inspections identifying failings.

As a result, enforcement action has been taken against employers.


The 3 common failings found were:

  1. not having local exhaust ventilation
  2. failing to complete regular fluid quality checks
  3. not providing health surveillance for lung and skin conditions

Why it matters

Exposure to metalworking fluids can cause harm to lungs and skin through inhalation or direct contact with unprotected skin; particularly hands, forearms and face. Breathing in the mist generated by machining can lead to lung diseases.


Metalworking fluid is a hazardous substance that comes under COSHH regulations (Control of Substances Hazardous to Health Regulations 2002).


The annual statistics on work-related ill health and workplace injuries for 2022/23 show:

  • an estimated 12,000 people die each year from lung diseases linked to exposure to hazardous substances at work
  • an estimated 19,000 new cases of breathing and lung problems are thought to have been caused or made worse by work
  • the manufacturing industry has a substantially higher rate than average for occupational asthma

Protect your workers, protect your business

To reduce exposure, you need control measures in place.


The impact of failing to take action can be significant. There is the real human cost to those harmed at work and if this results in a prosecution the costs can be reputational and financial.


Make sure you have the correct controls in place to protect workers from the risks of working with metalworking fluid. 

  • local exhaust ventilation (LEV) should be fitted on CNC machines to carry away any harmful metalworking fluid mist, which is difficult to see in normal lighting

  • fluid quality should be regularly checked focusing on concentration, pH and bacteria. Fluid systems can become highly contaminated with harmful bacteria

  • health surveillance will help detect any symptoms of ill health caused by work sooner rather than later. You will need to involve an occupational health professional and workers should be encouraged to report any symptoms as and when they appear if likely to be caused by exposure to fluid or mist

Find out more

For more information and links to advice and guidance to check your business has the correct measures in place:


Visit HSE’s metalworking fluids campaign webpage.

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