Machinists come in contact with a variety of skin irritants on a daily basis. Hard-working hands are routinely exposed to harsh chemicals and mechanical irritants as well as extreme environmental conditions that come with the job. It’s exposure to these elements that can result in occupational skin disease.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention estimates that more than 13 million U.S. workers are potentially exposed to chemicals and other irritants that absorb through the skin. These agents can cause a variety of occupational skin diseases, including contact dermatitis and system toxicity.

Contact dermatitis is skin inflammation that results from exposure to irritants or allergens. The condition can vary from slight reddening and itching to irritating rashes and weeping sores. The disease costs employers billions of dollars each year. It often requires ongoing medical care that alone costs more than $1.4 billion as well as another $500 million in productivity losses, according to a 2005 study by the Lewin Group for The Society for Investigative Dermatology and The Academy of Dermatology Association.

The National Occupational Research Agenda reported that once workers acquire contact dermatitis, it is estimated that 75 percent of the cases become chronic, requiring ongoing medical care and affecting workers’ well being.

So it’s important for machinists to take proper care of their skin by reducing exposure to common irritants, using products designed to clean and condition tough-soiled hands and following a healthy skin washing and skin care regimen. With these critical steps in place, workers will have healthier and more comfortable hands, which leads to a better quality of life and improved on-the-job productivity.

Be Alert to Common Hazards
The first line of defense is to become more aware of the hazards that workers encounter. There are four main skin irritants found in harsh work environments like machine shops.

Chemical Irritants —This includes metalworking fluids, lubricants, oils, greases, solvents, paints, fiberglass, acids and even poorly formulated hand cleansers that include surfactants.

Mechanical Abrasion — Machining, milling, sanding, and grinding generate metal chips that are particularly rough on the fingertips and tend to abrade the skin, causing irritation.

Physical Agents —Repeated exposure to heat, cold, water and friction can really take a toll on the skin.

Biological and Microbiological Agents —This is the transmission by hand of germs that may cause illness.