£800k fine for exposure to metalworking fluid

An ejector seat manufacturer has been fined £800,000 after breaching the Control of Substances Hazardous to Health (COSHH) Regulations 2002.

The court was told three skilled CNC machine operators developed lung conditions after being exposed for at least three-years to the mist produced from metalworking fluid.

One worker has been virtually paralysed by the illness. A second can never work with metal working fluid again while a third must have special measures in place so as to never have contact with the substance.

An investigation by the Health and Safety Executive (HSE) found the measures to stop exposure were inadequate. The fluid is a key industry material and is commonly used to lubricate and cool engineering processes. Using CNC (computer numerical control) machines creates a mist which in this case was breathed in by some 60 workers.

The manufacturer’s factory did not have a system to clean away the excess fluid or have extraction to prevent mist build-up. The manufacturer also failed to provide health surveillance which should have identified the issue earlier and ensured the company took the necessary safety measures.

Martin Baker Aircraft Company Limited accepted the metal mist failings breached the COSHH regulations and Health & Safety at Work etc. Act 1974. It was fined £800,000 with costs of £36,900.

The HSE said “Companies need to make sure they consider workers’ health just as much as their safety when carrying out risk assessments. The dangers of breathing in metalworking fluid are well known within the industry.”

It added “In this case one worker has had his health permanently and severely damaged, two others have also been affected, all will have to live with their condition for the rest of their lives”.

The manufacturer faces a further Health & Safety prosecution over the death of a Red Arrows pilot whose ejector seat activated unexpectedly.

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