Victims of irritant contact dermatitis often consult a doctor or nurse. While some experimental tests can provide an indication of the irritant potential of substances, no single test can reliably identify irritants in specific cases. In the evaluation of occupational irritant contact dermatitis, the best approach is to identify the conditions of exposure by discussing the victim's employment.

The information to be gathered includes a detailed list of all chemicals in the individual's working environment; a detailed description of all processes involved in a day's work; and any information about other workers, if any, who have similar skin problems.

How is it treated?

Contact dermatitis may be treated with compresses, creams, ointments and skin cleansers. In general, people should protect their skin from physical trauma, chemical irritation, excessive sunlight, wind, and rapid temperature changes while the dermatitis is active.

How common is it?

According to some U.S. statistics, skin disorders comprise more than 35 percent of all occupationally related diseases. Among all occupational dermatitis, irritant contact dermatitis accounts for about 80 percent.

What are the preventive measures?

Occupational irritant contact dermatitis can be avoided by the following measures:

  • personal hygiene
  • substitution of a less harmful substance
  • enclosure of the process
  • automation of the work procedures
  • local exhaust ventilation systems
  • good housekeeping
  • education
  • protective clothing
  • barrier creams, skin cleansers
  • convenient washing facilities

Personal hygiene, including hand washing, is vitally important in preventing contact dermatitis.

Additionally, workers should be aware that excessive exposure to just water alone produces dryness (i.e., removes skin oils) and irritation of the skin. This effect is even greater with the addition of soap and detergents or after exposure to solvents. For skin cleansing, workers should use the mildest soap. For industrial cleaning they should use the mildest detergent. To remove difficult oil and grease stains on hands and arms, workers should use a waterless hand cleanser. If waterless hand cleansers do not remove difficult stains, workers should use abrasive soaps. Waterless hand cleansers and abrasive soaps should be used sparingly and only when necessary.

Engineering control methods include the enclosure of processes to separate workers from the harmful substances that they use. Local exhaust systems should be used where toxic substances may escape into the workroom. Nonhazardous substances should replace hazardous substances when possible.

Even changing the form of the substance may be beneficial. For example, granules are usually less irritating than a fine powder.

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.

Employers should inform workers about the hazards of substances to which they are exposed and how to use them safely.

Protective clothing such as aprons and gloves should be properly selected to prevent skin contact. Not all protective clothing resists all substances. Manufacturers' specifications (e.g., kind material, duration of exposure/glove contact time with chemical) should be followed.

Barrier creams are used as substitutes for protective clothing, especially when gloves or sleeves cannot be safely used. It is important to remember that they do not provide as much protection as protective clothing. Barrier creams should be properly selected for specific purposes to ensure that they offer protection for the type of chemical being used and that they will not contribute to skin irritation problems.

Washrooms, toilets, and showers should be conveniently located and supplied with adequate hot water, disposable towels and soap.

Establishing a good program to avoid exposure of the skin to irritant substances is vitally important for eliminating irritant contact dermatitis.

Source: Canadian Centre for Occupational Health and Safety (CCOHS)