Press release by the Finnish Institute of Occupational Health, Helsinki, Finland, 9 November 2016

Exposure to metalworking fluids may cause skin and respiratory symptoms in workers. Exposure to air pollutants generated by metalworking fluids affects machinists in particular, but other machine and metal professionals working in machining shops may also be exposed. Metalworking fluids used during machining with chip removal, such as turning, milling, drilling, cutting, shaving or grinding, form aerosol containing both particulate and gaseous compounds harmful to health.

This study, co-ordinated by FIOH, detected deficiencies in local exhaust ventilation air filtering generally used in the machining centres of machining shops. The filtering equipment generally used in machining centres these days is not capable of removing gaseous pollutants generated by metalworking fluid. Even though individual pollutants do not reach concentrations known to be harmful, workers exhibit symptoms, such as rhinitis, coughing, ocular symptoms, shortness of breath, asthma and other respiratory symptoms.

The pollutants detected in workspace air were mainly alkanolamines and volatile organic compounds (VOC). From the measured concentrations of alkanolamines, 77% exceeded FIOH’s recommended target level of 0.1 mg/m3. The HEPA filters commonly used in air filtration units retain particulate pollutants but the pollutants found in the vapour phase, such as alkanolamines and volatile organic compounds, penetrate the filters.

Many ways to promote the purity of air

On the basis of the study, one of the following measures is needed at workplaces:

  1. The air from the filtering equipment of the machining centres should be led directly outdoors from the workspace. From the perspective of energy efficiency however, this is not necessarily the best solution.
  2. The ventilation of the workspace should be significantly increased, with the aim of diluting the air pollutant concentrations passing through filtering equipment. However this solution also increases the energy consumption of production facilities.
  3. Filtering in machining centres should be improved so that it also retains gaseous air pollutants, reaching the best energy efficiency. When machines are acquired, the need for filtering both particulate and gaseous pollutants must be taken into account. The machining ventilation and air treatment system developed and tested in the project proved to be an efficient means of removing both particulate and gaseous pollutants from the air that is recirculated from a machine tool into the breathing zone. Nevertheless, the system still requires further development and testing in practice at workplaces.

The control of air pollutants is a complex process that is also influenced by many other factors.  The exhaust ventilation air flow rates per machining centre were often quite low. If the air flow rate from the machine tool enclosure is too low, it does not prevent pollutants from spreading into the workspace air. In addition, a low air flow rate causes the accumulation of dirt in ducts consequently posing a risk of fire, for example. Another factor that is significant for workers’ exposure is the regular maintenance of metalworking fluids, including the measurement of endotoxin concentrations in fluids.

“Kohdepoistoilman suodattaminen ja palauttaminen metallin työstössä – kannattavuus ja vaikutukset työilman laatuun”, funded by the Finnish Work Environment Fund, was a joint research project of the Finnish Institute of Occupational Health, VTT Technical Research Centre of Finland Ltd, Tampere University of Applied Sciences and four Finnish metal machining companies that studied local exhaust ventilation air filtering in machining centres. The research was funded by the participating companies and research institutes as well as the Finnish Work Environment Fund. The project results are presented in the recent research “Metallintyöstön kohdepoistoilman hallinta” -report, published in the “Tietoa työstä” publication series of the Finnish Institute of Occupational Health.

Further information

Arto Säämänen, Senior Adviser, Finnish Institute of Occupational Health
arto.saamanen(at)ttl.fi
tel. +358 (0)43 8242370

Pirkko Pihlajamaa, Lecturer, HPAC, Tampere University of Applied Sciences
pirkko.pihlajamaa(at)tamk.fi
tel. +358 (0)40 8012695

Research report

Metallintyöstön kohdepoistoilman hallinta. 2016. Arto Säämänen, Tomi Kanerva, Markku Linnainmaa, Ilpo Ahonen, Matti Lehtimäki, Matti Niemeläinen, Tapio Kalliohaka, Pirkko Pihlajamaa. Finnish Institute of Occupational Health. Tampere: http://urn.fi/URN:ISBN 978-952-261-668-5(PDF)