Irritant Contact Dermatitis:
How to Avoid This Common Shop Issue
Of the various types of dermatitis, the one that plagues metalworking shops most often is contact irritant dermatitis. Most common metalworking fluids are strongly alkaline, and contact with skin can remove natural oils and damage the proteins in the skin's protective outer layer. Skin's water content is diminished, and the result is dry, scaly, inflamed skin.
Aggressive pH is not the only cause, though; metal fines, particularly those containing chromium, zinc, cobalt and nickel are often the culprits in machine shop dermatitis, along with improper fluid concentration, and additives that are out of balance.
Contrary to popular belief, bacteria does not cause irritant contact dermatitis, although bacteria can aggravate the condition and cause secondary infections.
So, how can irritant contact dermatitis be prevented in a metal shop?
Here are our 7 best ideas:
Monitor and control fluid concentrations. If higher concentrations are required for greater performance, upgrade to a higher-performing metalworking fluid, rather than increasing the concentration of the old one.
Reduce contaminants. Chips, fines, and lubricating oils that ride in on parts are all your enemy - not only because they invite dermatitis, but because they always, eventually compromise machining quality and tool life. Metal shavings wandering free in your fluids also pose their own risk, because they can cause small cuts to the skin which, in a shop environment, invite infections. Keep filters and separators in good working order.
Keep the work area clean. Use splash guards on the machines, and provide workers with protective aprons.
Promote good hygiene. Provide protective nitrile gloves (they're better than latex due to common allergic reactions) that cover the entire forearm, skin lotions that guard against excess dryness, and nonabrasive hand soaps. Supply paper towels throughout the shop so workers won't use towels that are contaminated with fluids or swarf.
Encourage workers to launder clothing that has been in contact with metalworking fluids and avoid putting fluid-soaked rags in their pockets. This is particularly important because dermatitis on the thighs and trunk is directly linked to the wearing of soiled clothing. Educate workers to use nonabrasive soaps at home, and to never use cleaning solutions to remove fluids from the skin.
Test for microbials, and avoid using fluids with high levels. If microbial counts are high, talk with an experienced fluids expert about the best solution for the current problem, and a long-term solution so you won't have to deal with it again.
Consider a less aggressive metalworking fluid that's equally effective. Acculube lubricant specialists have a wealth of knowledge with virtually every major type of metalworking fluid and machining system. We're eager to share ideas on how you can fix current problems, prevent new ones, and make your shop more productive.