Interview with Michael Rocker, chemist, Berufsgenossenschaft Metall Nord Süd (BGM), Mainz, Germany, in the MOTOREX magazine.

Berufsgenossenschaft Metall Nord Süd
Prevention Division
Health Protection Departement
Wilhelm-Theodor-Römheld-Strasse 15
D-55130 Mainz

MOTOREX magazine: What confirmed triggers of skin disorders are associated with the use of coolants?
Michael Rocker: Skin disorders caused by coolants – contact eczemas, as they are known – are generally multifactorial in nature. Depending on the damaging factors in each case, we refer to allergic, toxic, irritant or degenerative changes in the skin, and mixed forms are common. The period between first contact with the coolant and the appearance of a skin disorder can range from a week to 30 years. Allergic contact eczemas are characterized by the fact that
the skin reaction persists throughout life, in many cases forcing the sufferer to give up their job if the allergen cannot be avoided. Common allergens such as nickel, cobalt or chromium ions enter coolants from the workpiece. In such cases substitution is generally not possible. Other relevant allergens are biocidal substances such as formaldehyde deposits or isothiazolinones. In this case, action can usually be taken by replacing the triggering allergen. Toxic irritant contact eczemas develop as a result of skin contact with substances with powerful effects, e.g. machinecleaning or system-cleaning agents, or coolant or biocide concentrates. This type of disorder can be avoided by wearing suitable gloves (which must be specified in the safety data sheet). Degenerative contact eczemas occur as a result of many years of contact with cutting oils or cooling emulsions or solutions. They develop through the slow but constant drying
and defatting of the skin and the disruption of the equilibrium at the skin surface. This destruction can be avoided by optimized skin protection measures (skin protectant plus skincare product). However, care must be taken to ensure that coolant specifications such as working concentration and pH meet the manufacturers’ recommendations.

What are the costs incurred by industry in Europe each year as a result of productivity losses due to skin disorders?
A wide variety of figures are bandied about, and I only have a rough overview for Germany from the standpoint of the accident insurance companies. Reliable figures are difficult to establish due to the mixture of direct costs (e.g. for treatment or retraining) and indirect costs (sick leave, production losses) that is involved. A survey conducted for the years 2002 – 2004 has produced direct cost figures of between 600 million and 2 billion euros a year and estimated indirect costs some five times higher, giving an estimated cost figure of 3 to 10 billion euros a year for Germany. Extrapolating this estimate to Europe produces a sum well into the double-digit billions. That’s reason enough to replace
skin-damaging substances wherever technically feasible.

How do you view the future development of biocidecontaining coolants?
This is a complex issue. The current standard practice is to pre-preserve coolant lubricants or to subsequently add biocides. The possible risks have already been described. Coolant lubricants that are naturally biocide-free and physical decontamination systems are also known. Minimum-quantity lubrication and dry machining are other options that avoid biocides. My guess is that users will continue to give preference to biocide-containing coolant lubricants for the foreseeable future because of the need to suppress microbiological degradation. Innovation will always be needed when negative aspects such as skin or respiratory disorders get out of control.

What will future regulations mean for industrial companies and operators?

I would feel happier if I could predict the expected positive implications of REACH and GHS. Basically, manufacturers will be increasingly responsible for investigating the harmful effects of their chemicals on humans and the environment. This will initially focus on raw materials, then spread to finished products for industry, skilled trades and private users. Communication between the various manufacturers will also be regulated. The next step is to identify which particular application-specific conditions, such as intensive skin contact, aerosol formation during open use or risks associated with transport, lead to which particular requirements in terms of protective measures. The outcome of such an analysis might mean that certain applications need to be restricted or even banned altogether in individual cases, for example if they are carcinogenic or environmentally hazardous. This will be a protracted process, and REACH will not be fully implemented before 2018. But at least then there should no longer be any applications where we do not know the extent of the risk to employees, and we will be able to optimize protective measures. I am assuming that the standard of occupational safety will be higher and that there will be no unpleasant surprises because constituents that have been used for many years but have not been adequately investigated “suddenly” prove to be especially dangerous. The aim of GHS is to set global standards, i.e. even those manufacturers that have not primarily been affected by REACH to date will be compelled to classify and label their products.

How do you view the future prospects for a product such as MOTOREX TRESOR PMC® 100, which is free of boron, amines and other dangerous substances, and that limits microbial growth by other means?
Assuming that the technical performance and service lives have been confirmed in reference facilities, I think that its prospects are very good and that it will probably be used increasingly. I have already talked enough about the possible risks associated with biocides, but the focus for future products will increasingly be on the cost factor. Although the current discussions about boric acid are not based on particularly firm ground, they influence buyers – albeit unconsciously – nevertheless.

What about the current position concerning coolants containing boric acid with regard to the Biocides Directive in 2014?
Looking ahead is always an uncertain business. Boric acid is not currently listed as a biocidal substance in the Biocides Directive, so while this situation continues (because its anticorrosive effect remains the prime consideration), the requirements of REACH will continue to apply. Discussions within the EU are currently focusing on whether boric acid should undergo the authorization procedure, which would again entail additional costs. There is also a risk that certain applications will not pass the authorization procedure, or to put it plainly, will be banned. That’s why the future for boric acid will be uncertain, even though not a single case of illness has been documented to date and the latest studies indicate that even highly exposed workers in the boric acid manufacturing industry are not affected by disease.

Why are all the relevant ingredients of coolant lubricants listed meticulously in the safety data sheets and labeled, whereas in real-life, biocides are sometimes handled naively? For example, TRGS (Technical Rules for Hazardous Substances) 611 stipulates that pH, concentration, nitrite and temperature have to be measured every week. However, the biocidal content, after additions, is a parameter associated with a high degree of risk but is hardly documented at all. What do you think about this?
The main problem is that the requirements arising from the legal areas of “placing on the market” and “activities”, i.e. use, differ widely. For the purposes of placing on the market, the properties of the traded product are considered, this is usually labeled and therefore subject to the requirements of the Preparations Directive (from 2015: GHS). Manufacturers implement these obligations, compliance is (relatively) easy to monitor and violations are subject to substantial fines. Differing levels of risk apply to the use of products, depending on each case on the working concentration, i.e. the degree of dilution. So we have individual company-specific or production-specific scenarios. Certain individuals
are responsible for establishing (i.e. estimating in many cases) the level of risk during use, and that’s where the problem touched on in your question arises. Large factories have suitable individuals (e.g. safety engineers, works doctors, foremen) with the appropriate expertise to implement the requirements, yet the smaller a company is, the more difficult it is to identify problems and come up with a suitable solution. Monitoring compliance with the latest rules or regu lations also becomes more difficult with decreasing company size. It is no secret that some companies have not been visited by accident insurance companies or regional authorities for a decade or more (and they are certainly not unhappy about this). This problem can be resolved only by clarifying the risks, informing the relevant company personnel (line managers and specialists) about their responsibility, developing appropriate protective measures in the form of information sheets and seminars and, in particular, encouraging them to create a healthy working environment. Finally, I should like to look specifically at biocides. As a result of the EU Biocides Directive, more products than ever before now have to be investigated and authorized and the fact that users sometimes handle biocides more carelessly than they should has been taken into account. There is now a need to make users aware that biocides are dangerous or potentially dangerous products, depending on the specific application, and to familiarize them with the risks of corrosive burns, poisoning or chronic skin disorders. The rules are strict enough, users just need to take them seriously and adopt them in practice. This they can do with the aid not only of the manufacturers, but also of accident insurance companies and the authorities. •


Bern-Zürich-Strasse 31 • P.O. Box • 4901 Langenthal, Switzerland

Phone +41 (0)62 919 75 75 • Fax +41 (0)62 919 75 95