Contact Dermatitis

Thank you for joining us for this episode of Health and Safety To Go. Today we’re sharing some tips on contact dermatitis prevention.    

You're covered in it and weighing about eight pounds, skin is the largest organ in our bodies. It's versatile, insulating, strong, waterproof - and it has to last a lifetime. Unfortunately people working in environments where they are exposed to chemicals and other harmful substances are at risk for skin diseases. Contact dermatitis comes in two forms: irritant (80% of all occupational dermatitis) and allergic.

Irritant contact dermatitis is caused when your skin comes into direct contact with an irritating chemical or agent in your workplace. Wet work and other physical irritants such as friction and low humidity can also cause or contribute to occupational dermatitis.

One of the first signs of irritant contact dermatitis is often dry, red and itchy skin which may be followed by swelling, flaking, blistering, cracking and pain. These symptoms don't always occur all at once or in all cases. Dermatitis can develop quickly after contact with a strong irritant, or over a longer period from frequent contact with a mild irritant. The severity of the reaction depends on the kind of chemicals contained in the product used, the concentration of chemical, and the length and frequency of the exposure.

Allergic occupational contact dermatitis occurs when you develop an allergy to a chemical or agent. Substances that are known to cause skin sensitization include cobalt, chromium and chromates, certain cosmetics and fragrances, epoxies, nickel, certain plants, preservatives, resins and acrylics. The signs and symptoms of skin sensitization are similar to irritant contact dermatitis, however sensitization tends to be a delayed reaction, developing over time, and the consequences are more severe. This is because once someone has developed an allergy, exposure to even tiny amounts of the allergen can trigger allergic contact dermatitis.

So who is most at risk? Although anyone can develop occupational contact dermatitis, workers at increased risk include agricultural workers, artists, beauticians, chemical/petroleum plant operators, cleaners, construction workers, cooks and caterers, hairdressers, health care workers, mechanics, metalworkers and vehicle assemblers.

How can contact dermatitis be prevented? Employers are required by the Canadian right-to-know legislation (Workplace Hazardous Materials Information System) to inform workers about the nature of substances they are exposed to and how to work with them safely. Chemicals or chemical products that are skin sensitizers, skin irritants or corrosive to the skin are covered by this legislation. Employers must assess the risks associated with exposure to these chemicals in the workplace and control exposure to eliminate or minimize their effects.

Also, where possible, consider using safer non-hazardous substance, and where it is not, reduce exposure by containing the substance at the source, and handle the materials in ways that limit contact.

·         Practice good housekeeping to prevent the spread of contamination, including proper storage of substances, frequent disposal of waste, prompt removal of spills, and maintenance of equipment to keep it free of dust, dirt and drippings.

·         Practice good hand washing, however be aware that excessive exposure to water alone can dry out and irritate the skin. This effect worsens with the addition of soap and detergents or after exposure to solvents.

·         Avoid promoting the use of pre-work creams as 'barrier creams' as this may give workers a false sense of security and discourage them from taking the necessary preventative measures. These creams can moisturize the skin and help remove dirt, however they do not create an effective physical barrier.

·         Make after-work or conditioning creams readily available to workers to help prevent contact dermatitis from developing, and encourage workers to use them.

·         Leave personal protective equipment as a measure of last resort. Personal protective equipment is the least effective control measure and only protects well when it is selected, worn, and removed properly and either replaced or maintained regularly. Appropriate gloves and cotton liners should be provided and selected according to their chemical and physical resistance properties and their general suitability for the job tasks. Ensure that workers understand how to wear, maintain and remove and when to replace them.

·         Train workers about the risks to their health from skin exposure and the precautions needed to prevent disease. This training should include the correct use of any personal protective equipment, good skin care and what to do if they suspect they might have a skin problem.

If a skin contamination problem is identified, employers must implement measures to adequately prevent or control the risk.

·         Relocating workers with contact dermatitis to a low exposure area or implementing exposure controls may help improve or resolve occupational contact dermatitis in some workers, especially if the problem is identified early, but is not always effective. In some cases, workers who develop allergic contact dermatitis need to be permanently removed from exposure to the chemical to which they are allergic.

·         While the enhanced use of gloves or protective clothing may improve or prevent symptoms in some but not all workers who continue to be exposed to the substance causing the problem.

·         Again, conditioning creams can improve skin condition in workers who have developed occupational contact dermatitis.

As many as about one in ten patients continue to have persistent contact dermatitis in the very long term, even after removal from exposure. It is common for workers with contact dermatitis to leave or change their employment; however, most continue working in some capacity.

Learn to protect the skin you're in; you'll be wearing it for the rest of your life.

For more information about protecting yourself from the sun and heat, visit, thanks for listening everyone.