Preventing Occupational Contact Dermatitis



Welcome to this Chemscape presentation on Occupational Contact Dermatitis, a skin condition that can have a profound impact on daily living and a person's ability to perform a job. Dermatitis is a disease involving inflammation of the skin. Work-related contact dermatitis is caused by damage to the skin from a substance at work, like solvents, cleansers, or wet work.

Symptoms of Occupational Contact Dermatitis

Signs of dermatitis include redness, pain, itching, swelling, and the formation of small blisters on the skin. A person who has dermatitis experiences symptoms of itching and pain. The signs and symptoms of this condition can be bad enough that it impedes work and attention to the job. Here is a list of occupations and related workplace chemicals that can cause irritant contact dermatitis.

It is interesting to note that although 3,000 substances are recognized as contact allergens, 25 of these substances are responsible for 50% of the cases of dermatitis.

How to Recognize a Work-Related Cause for Dermatitis

If you suspect you have dermatitis and it may be work-related, you may notice the skin irritation is primarily on the hands and face. The condition improves when you are away from work and relapses on return. More than one person may be affected in the same work area or handling same materials.

Factors that Contribute to the Development of Contact Dermatitis

Factors contributing to the development of contact dermatitis include properties of the chemical, for example, if it is an acid, alkali, or salt, solubility, if the substance is a gas, liquid, or solid, and the length and frequency of the exposure. Individual factors affecting the severity of reaction include the part of the skin exposed, for example, the hands, arms, or face, the health of the skin, like, pre-existing cuts or scratches into which substances can enter, skin dryness, sweating, age, and genetic background of the person. Environmental factors, like hot workplaces, humid or dry air, repetitive job tasks involving friction against the skin, and contamination.

Irritant Contact Dermatitis

Irritant contact dermatitis involves a chemical directly damaging and inflaming skin. The damage often occurs only at the place where the skin contacts the chemical. The following factors may cause irritant contact dermatitis, Phototoxic responses, such as tar smarts or tar and sunlight. Brief contact with highly irritating chemicals, such as acids, bases, or oxidizing or reducing agents. Mild irritants that cause damage over time, such as water, detergents, or weak cleaning agents.

Irritant contact dermatitis, frequently, develops into allergic contact dermatitis. Allergic contact dermatitis develops when a worker is in regular contact to an allergic substance and becomes sensitized to it. When the skin absorbs the chemical allergen again, the chemical may cause an immune reaction that inflames the skin. The immune system has a memory to recognize substances encountered more than once.

The reaction can go beyond the place where the skin absorbed the chemical. If a worker becomes sensitized to a specific substance, their immune system recognizes the allergen and reacts to it. The allergic sensitization may remain with the individual throughout life. If there is no further contact with the allergen, the level of sensitivity may gradually decline, or it may not change.

Those with dermatitis should consult a doctor or dermatologist to identify what is causing the reaction, like work conditions. Providing a list of workplace chemicals and a description of the job tasks can help identify the cause of irritation. Identifying the cause of the dermatitis is the first step to developing a plan to eliminate or minimize exposure to the substance.

Review a Chemical's Safety Data Sheet

Understand the chemicals you are working with. This can be done by reviewing the chemical safety data sheet and label. You can access the safety data sheet in SDS binders for information on the chemical. It will contain information on proper handling instructions. Ask your supervisor for clarification if necessary.

Follow the Hierarchy of Controls

Follow the hierarchy of controls to prevent exposure.Can you eliminate or substitute for something that does not contain the irritant of concern? Can an engineering control be used to isolate the product? Can administrative of work practices reduce the exposure? Gloves will protect the hands if the irritant cannot be eliminated for the task. However, coveralls may also be needed to protect more of the body. Substitute the substance of irritation if possible.

Non-hazardous substances should replace hazardous substances. Even changing the form of the substance may be beneficial. For example, granules are, usually, less irritating than a fine powder. Engineering control methods include the enclosure of processes or capturing the contaminant to protect workers from the irritant. Administrative controls such as good housekeeping includes: proper storage of substances, frequent disposal of waste, prompt removal of spills, and maintenance of the equipment to keep it free of dust, dirt, and drippings.

The Importance of Mindful Handwashing

Mindful hand washing is important in preventing contact dermatitis. Excessive water use will remove skin oils, creates dryness, and increases irritation of the skin. Soaps and detergents can aggravate skin irritation. Use the mildest soap for skin cleansing. Use the mildest detergent for industrial cleaning. To remove difficult oil and grease stains, use a waterless hand cleanser or abrasive soaps, if required, and use sparingly.

Wear Gloves that Match the Hazardous Substance

Choose a glove to match the hazardous substance, work task, and level of protection needed. Manufacturer specifications for the type of material, duration of exposure, or glove contact time with chemical should be followed. Frequently, inspect the glove for any nicks or cuts. Replace glove if it appears worn or damaged. Apart from gloves and protective coveralls, aprons and face masks may be required. Barrier creams can offer a certain amount of protection, but they should never replace an appropriate glove.

Creams can wear off quickly and provide much less effective protection. Unlike when gloves fail, the user will not usually be aware of decreasing protection. Barrier creams may sometimes be used with gloves and sometimes are used to facilitate cleaning of the skin after work.

This concludes our presentation on contact dermatitis. If you have further questions regarding this health topic, please contact your health and safety representative.