The United Auto Workers (UAW) union has asked the federal government to set a comprehensive standard to protect workers against dangerous exposures to metalworking fluids (MWFs), the union announced on May 11.

The petition, filed April 28 with the U.S. Occupational Safety and Health Administration, maintains that there is significant evidence of severe health effects from occupational exposure to MWFs and government intervention is necessary.

“All workers, union and nonunion, need to be protected by a consistent, rational federal standard for exposure to metalworking fluids,” UAW president Ron Gettelfinger said. “These fluids are dangerous substances that can cause life-threatening conditions.”

The National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health estimates that more than 1 million workers are exposed to metalworking fluids and lubricants on the job. Some of the ill health effects associated with MWFs include respiratory conditions such as asthma and hypersensitivity pneumonitis, and cancer at several sites, including, larynx, rectum, pancreas, skin, scrotum, stomach, esophagus, lung and bladder.

Significant numbers of UAW members work in the auto and auto parts, aerospace, agricultural implement and other manufacturing industries that have significant potential exposure to MWFs.

The UAW has consistently fought for and won significant MWF protections for workers in collective bargaining agreements, including ways to reduce the amount of MWFs used, improved ventilation and personal protective equipment and other protections.

“The best way for workers to protect themselves is for them to have a union contract that spells out exactly how companies will protect workers from these dangerous substances,” Gettelfinger said. “The federal government also has a role: It needs to set standards that are effective, reasonable and consistent – and always with worker health and safety being the top concern.”

The UAW has asked labor and other health and safety organizations to join its petition to protect workers from MWFs.