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RR577 - The causative factors of dermatitis among workers exposed to metalworking fluids

Metalworking fluids (MWF) are widely used in metal processing. Exposure to MWF is known to cause irritant contact dermatitis, but it is unclear which aspects of the fluids play an important role in disease development. This research first examined which MWF parameters were linked with increased skin irritation in a laboratory investigation. These studies suggested that MWF are no more irritating, at least over short time periods, than water. We concluded that improvements in the management of MWF concentration, pH, metal fines and bacteriological contamination are unlikely to have as great an impact on dermatitis risk as reducing dermal exposure to MWF.

The second phase involved a workplace study in six engineering plants. We developed a multimedia computer package to deliver a questionnaire on skin condition, guidance on working with MWF, and advice on reducing dermatitis risk. The multimedia package helped bring about changes in worker behaviour to reduce dermal exposure and reductions in exposure were sustained across two follow-up visits. Workers receiving the guidance were also found to increase their use of skin care creams. There was also evidence that the management of MWF improved. Towards the end of the project we identified a need for a new method of sampling the duration and frequency of wet-work and we developed a prototype wet-work sampler.

This report and the work it describes were funded by the Health and Safety Executive (HSE). Its contents, including any opinions and/or conclusions expressed, are those of the author alone and do not necessarily reflect HSE policy.

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Updated 2010-03-19