Factors contributing to irritation include:

  • the chemical properties of the substance (for example, is it an acid, an alkali, or a salt),
  • the amount and concentration of chemical coming in contact with the skin, and
  • the length and frequency of the exposure.

Factors peculiar to individual workers are also important. Hereditary factors influence the variety of reactions seen in different persons when exposed to the same irritant.

The part of the body that comes in contact with an irritant substance is another factor to remember. The penetration of substances varies over different body regions. For example, some substances penetrate the face and the upper back more quickly than the arms.

Environmental factors play a significant role. For example, hot, humid workplaces cause workers to sweat. Sweat can dissolve some types of industrial chemical powders that may come in contact with the skin. This increases their toxic or irritant effects of the chemicals because solutions penetrate the skin more readily than solids. On the other hand, sweating may also have a protective function because it may dilute or wash out substances. Working where the air humidity is low or where the skin is wet for prolonged and repeated periods can cause chapping of the skin that, in turn, can increase the possibility of irritation.

Friction against the skin, occurring while operating grinding machines and other equipment can scrape away the skin, reducing its protective action against irritants. Clothing soaked with irritants is another important factor. Cuts or skin injuries enable irritant substances to penetrate the skin more readily. 

Source: Canadian Centre for Occupational Health and Safety (CCOHS) www.ccohs.ca