Innovadex Lubricant & Metalworking Fluids Cybrary

Metalworking Fluids in
Small Business:
A Health and Safety

This "Quickstart Guide" is designed to help small businesses and their employees effectively manage the health, safety and environmental impacts of metalworking fluids ("MWFs"). MWFs are used to reduce heat and friction in metal cutting, grinding and shaping operations. MWFs also provide corrosion protection for the newly machined part and machine tool.

This guide provides a brief step-by-step outline on how to work safely with MWFs. It also includes links to websites where shops and small businesses can get more detailed information about how to effectively and safely use MWFs.

The Independent Lubricant Manufacturers Association, through its Alliance with OSHA, the Occupational Safety & Health Administration, has prepared this guide to help MWF users recognize, reduce, and prevent the occurrence of occupational illness and injury associated with exposure to MWFs.

Properly maintaining the MWF in use is not only important to the health and safety of shop personnel but provides significant cost savings by extending the useful life of the MWF and reducing waste. At the end of this guide you will find a glossary of technical terms, including some of the basic tools that can be used to maintain a metalworking fluid system in an industrial environment. As with most products used in the shop, your supplier should be the first source of information on proper handling and maintenance of your specific product.

Step 1: Establish a MWF Management Program
Step 2: Hazard Communication - Material Safety Data Sheets ("MSDSs")
Step 3: Minimize Exposures to MWFs
Step 4: Health Considerations

Step 1: Establish a MWF Management Program.

The purpose of a MWF Program is to put in place a series of checks to help you use the fluids properly, effectively, and safely. A well-managed system can mean fewer worker complaints of odors or irritation and reduce the possibility of negative health effects sometimes associated with MWF.

Cutting Fluid Management: A Guide for Small Shops (Iowa Waste Reduction Center)
A practical system management and pollution prevention guide.

What You Need to Know About Occupational Exposure to Metalworking Fluids (NIOSH)
DHHS (NIOSH) Publication No. 98-116. Exposure, health effects, and control information for metalworking fluids users.

Management of the Metal Removal Fluid Environment (Organization Resources Counselors)
This MRF management guide aims to be a comprehensive and useful resource for those who work with metal removal fluids.

OSHA Metalworking Fluids Best Practices Manual
The manual is advisory in nature, informational in content, and is intended to assist employers in providing a safe and healthful workplace for workers exposed to metalworking fluids through effective prevention programs adapted to the needs and resources of each place of employment.

Step 2: Hazard Communication - Material Safety Data Sheets ("MSDSs")

OSHA's Hazard Communication Web site:
Information on what is hazard communication, frequently asked questions, and the Hazard Communication Standard.

Step 3: Minimize Exposures to MWFs

The first defense against occurrence of occupational diseases and illnesses, such as skin problems (dermatitis) and respiratory illness, is to reduce exposure. Machinists at your facility should not have their hands and arms (or any other part of the body) wet from exposure to MWFs. If you can detect unusual odors, smoke, or see mist in the air, exposure is likely too high. Take these steps first:

For more information on reducing exposure to MWFs, follow these links:
What You Need to Know About Occupational Exposure to Metalworking Fluids (NIOSH)
DHHS (NIOSH) Publication No. 98-116. Exposure, health effects, and control information for metalworking fluids users:

Prevention of Skin Problems When Working With Metalworking Fluids (State of Washington Department of Labor and Industries)
This publication provides a brief overview of skin problems when working with MWFs, prevention of dermatitis, and treatment:

Management of the Metal Removal Fluid Environment (Organization Resources Counselors)
This MRF management guide aims to be a comprehensive and useful resource for those who work with metal removal fluids:

The following ASTM standards can be purchased:
ASTM E 1972 - 04, Standard Practice for Minimizing Effects of Aerosols in the Wet Metal Removal Environment

ASTM E 1497- 00, Standard Practice for Safe Use of Water-Miscible Metal Removal Fluids

Step 4: Health Considerations

Q - If skin problems (dermatitis) or respiratory illness occurs in my shop, what do I do?
A - If skin problems occur or if employees complain about breathing problems or undesirable respiratory symptoms (excessive coughing, throat irritation), send the affected employees to your local occupational clinic to consult an occupational physician. If you do not have reasonable access to either an occupational clinic or occupational physician, seek the services of a physician or other licensed health care professional (who may also be helpful in locating an occupational doctor or clinic). In addition, be sure to contact your metalworking fluid supplier and describe the issue. After ensuring that the illness receives proper medical attention, it may be wise to evaluate existing MWF engineering and work practice controls (and employee adherence to the proper work procedures) to see whether they could be modified to prevent future illness.

To learn more about the diseases that are reported to be associated with MWF exposure, follow these links:

NIOSH Criteria for a Recommended Standard: Occupational Exposure to Metalworking Fluids
The criteria document reviews available information about health effects associated with occupational exposure to metalworking fluids (MWFs) and MWF aerosols.

Glossary of Common Terms:

Bacteria and mold: Microscopic organisms that naturally occur in industrial fluids. If left to grow unchecked they can cause odors, dermatitis and rust on parts.

Biocide and Fungicide: Chemical agents used to kill and consequently control microbial organisms (e.g., bacteria, fungi, yeast, and mold) in MWFs. These can be formulated into the concentrate or added to the sump.

Biological testing: Testing for the presence of bacteria, yeast and mold by the use of paper like test strips or paddles coated with a media that allows the bacteria and mold to grow on them and then to be measured.

Concentration control: Metalworking fluids are mixtures of ingredients, each performing a definite function. Concentration control, which can be accomplished by a number of different methods, checks the overall concentration or the level of several of these components during use in the plant.

Defoamer: A chemical additive that physically alters the surface tension of a fluid to reduce or eliminate foaming. It can be formulated into the concentrate or added tank side.

Dilution or Concentration: The ratio or percent of water to concentrate in the machine sump.

Fines and swarf: Metal fines and grinding wheel particles generated during grinding or machining.

"Neat" oil: As it comes from the drum, not diluted. Refers to either "straight oil," not intended to be further diluted with water, or to "soluble oil," as it comes from the container, before mixing with water to form soluble oil and water MWF mixtures.

pH: This is an expression that is used to indicate whether a substance is acidic, neutral, or alkaline. A pH measurement determines the degree of acidity or alkalinity of a metalworking fluid mix.

Rancidity: A term used to describe a system that has been overcome with bacteria, mold and/or fungal growth, and has a strong and foul ("locker room") odor.

Refractometer: An optical instrument that measures the refractive index of a water soluble MWF. Used to determine concentration.

Skimmer: A device for removing floating tramp oil from the surface of the MWF.

Tank side additive: Products used to control foam, bacterial or fungal growth that are added to the working sump.

Titration: Chemical titration methods can be established to measure either overall concentration or certain components or groups of components in any fluid mix. These would include measuring the alkalinity, the anionic content, the nonionic level, or the sulfonates.

Tramp oil: Oil that is present in a metalworking fluid mix and is not from the product or concentrate. The usual sources are machine tool lubrication systems and leaks.

Water Quality: A measurement of the levels of calcium, magnesium and chloride that affect the performance of a metalworking fluid. Hard water would have high levels of these metals and would form residues. Soft water would have low levels and tend to foam.

For more information, visit the OSHA Metalworking Fluid Safety and Health Topics Page