Have you ever gotten itchy skin when you used coolants or lubricants? You’re not the only one.
When it comes to the industrial world, the topic of safety is everywhere. Think silica dust, benzene, and welding fumes. Coolant safety is no different. People are concerned about it, and rightly so. Your safety (or your worker’s safety) mustn’t be put at risk.
In this article, we’ll answer the question “Is coolant dangerous?”, explore the potential dangers, and provide you with a clear understanding of how to keep your team safe.
Why the worry?
Why do some folks worry about coolants? It could be itchy skin, funny smells, or simply unfamiliarity with these substances that can make anyone uneasy.
Often, it's going to be the WHS representatives or business owners who bear the responsibility for the well-being of their employees. If an issue arises with coolants, it could well lead to occupational health and safety complaints. Nobody wants that.
Coolants are mostly safe
Coolants, and most metal working fluids, in their essence, are generally safe for the vast majority of skin types. However, you need to take into account the vast complexity of human skin. With eight billion unique skin types in the world, it's easy to see why reactions can differ from person to person. One person may get a mild reaction to a certain type of coolant, while another simply does not react at all. That’s why you can’t definitively say that a certain type or brand of coolant will be safe for absolutely everyone (although there are safer types).
It’s important to understand that as technology has progressed over time, coolants have generally become less dangerous. However, they still require biocides to prevent bacterial growth, which can lead to problems.
The danger factors
This is where you get to the heart of the issue. Biocides, extreme-pressure additives, fungicides and anti-foam agents are commonly the most toxic parts of any coolant. However, they are necessary, otherwise you’re going to end up with underperforming coolant and worse.
Some types of additives are more harmful that others. Often, the types of additives that are used are determined by the price point of the coolant. The cheaper the coolant, the more likely the additives are to hazardous to your health. For example, formaldehyde and chlorine are two commonly used cheap additives, which are effective but toxic to humans.
Formaldehyde has a hazard classification of H350, meaning at high concentrations it can cause cancer. At lower concentrations, it can result in the irritation of the skin, eyes, nose and throat (source: Facts About Formaldehyde | US EPA).
Chlorine is also toxic in high quantities, having a classification of H400. In lower quantities there is very minimal risk (after all, it is in our tap water).
However, we generally don’t recommend you swallow coolants, especially if the labels of the coolant you are currently using contain any of the symbols listed below:
Often, the amount of toxic chemicals in coolants is not enough to cause major damage. In most cases, coolants are made up of about 1% of these toxic chemicals. Once diluted to a ratio of 1:20, the percent of the additive causing the issues becomes very low, at around 0.05%.
Remember that these toxins are usually only found in cheaper coolants. Higher-quality coolants often contain technologically advanced additives that are safe for human skin.
While the toxins found in coolant aren’t likely to do you significant harm, they may cause dermatitis or eczema (itchy skin). If you find that your coolant could be potentially harmful for yourself or your employees, don't panic.
The key is to refer to the safety data sheets (SDS) for your specific coolant product. SDS should be clearly labelled, easily accessible, and provide detailed instructions on how to respond to any issues, including if/when to contact emergency services. It's your safety manual for the product.
The best course of action if you have concerns about your coolant's safety is to reach out to your supplier. At Excision, we’re committed to offering high-quality, safe coolants. We can help you find a solution that is safer (and more effective) suited to your exact processes.
Coolants aren’t to be feared
Long story short, coolants are not to be feared.
People have been using them for a long time, and in most cases, there are very few issues concerning the toxicity of the product. The most common problems are related to skin contact, causing dermatitis or eczema. If you’re not interested in changing your coolant, put on a pair of gloves! However, in the long-term, you should certainly consider switching to a coolant that has a focus on maintaining a healthy and safe working environment for anyone who encounters it.
So, to answer the question, "Is coolant dangerous?" – Not when handled responsibly and with the right information at your fingertips. The key is staying informed, taking precautions, and knowing that we're here to help you ensure the safety and efficiency of your operations.