A Guide to Occupational Contact Dermatitis for Employers and Workers
Wed, April 21, 2021

A Guide to Occupational Contact Dermatitis for Employers and Workers


Occupational contact dermatitis (OCD) refers to the inflammation of the skin when you come into contact with external substances at work, according to the Skin Health Institute, a not-for-profit health organization. It can occur at any time even if you don’t have a previous history of allergies.

OCD is a common skin condition that affects your quality of life, as well as implications on workers’ compensation, medical and pharmaceutical costs, and more. While it is commonly observed in hands, OCD can sometimes spread to other parts of your body, making it difficult to treat.

Research Studies On Occupational-Related Contact Dermatitis and Occupational Allergic Contact Dermatitis (OACD)

Yu-Xin Chen and colleagues of Hindawi, an open access publisher of scientific, technical, and medical literature, included 529 respondents employed at 12 clothing factories in their 2019 study. It found that 70.3% of the participants had direct exposure to labor materials, consisting of sewing workers (56.7%) and ironing workers (13.6%), and managers (29.7%). Occupational contact dermatitis (OCD) was observed in 17% of respondents.

88 respondents underwent patch tests, with 10.8% of workers and 3.2% of managers having a positive patch test reaction to at least one of the allergens. These groups were diagnosed as having OACD. The hands were the most OCD affected among sewing and ironing workers (82.4%), but managers (93%) were mostly affected on the face and neck, especially when airborne allergens were causative agents.

At least one positive test reaction to 35 allergens in the TRUE test was found in 88 participants and more frequent among sewing and ironing workers (54.1%) compared to managers (35.7%). Regarding the overall prevalence of concomitant reactions, 40% of the positive patch test reactions were concomitant reactions to nickel sulfate and cobalt dichloride.

However, only 20% had concomitant reactions to epoxy resin and p-tertbutylphenol formaldehyde resin, including colophony and p-tertbutylphenol formaldehyde resin among 28.9% of workers and 80% of managers. The findings pushed for the promotion of improvements in textile technology, bolstering occupational protection efforts, and increased focus on the occupational health of workers.

In another study by Tesfaye Hambisa Mekonen, Dawit Getachew Yenealem, and Beyene Mindaye Tolosa of Biomed Central, the researchers utilized a healthcare-based cross-sectional study from March to April 2018. 85.8% of participants said they used some types of PPE for their activities and 99.3% of workers had always used gloves for their jobs.



47.6% said they washed their hands 1-5 times a day, 33.6% washed 6-10 times a day, 8.8% said they washed 11-20 times a day, and 10% washed more than 20 times a day. The overall prevalence of self-reported occupational-related contact dermatitis in the last 12 months was 31.5%. Contact dermatitis was more prevalent in nurses (12.1%) and midwifery professionals (11.8%).

The most prevalent symptoms were redness (28.6%) and burning (17.3%). Self-reported dermatitis was observed on the hands (22%) and on the workers’ faces (5%). 2.1% of workers said they had contact dermatitis on their eyes, as well as on other body parts (2.8%). Of those who reported contact dermatitis, 75.9% said their symptoms lasted for more than three weeks.

92.5% said their symptoms worsened when they come into contact with certain materials, chemicals, etc. in their workplace. 26% who had contact dermatitis reported that their symptoms aggravated when they came into contact with certain materials outside of the workplace. However, 96.2% said their symptoms improved when they spent days away from work. While occupational-related contact dermatitis is a common skin issue among healthcare workers in Ethiopia, the authors emphasized a greater need for these workers to undergo better safety and health training at work.  

Types of OCD

Irritant contact dermatitis is caused by water and wet work, soaps and detergents, or heat and sweating. It can occur when you have a personal or family history of asthma, eczema, or hay fever. Irritant contact dermatitis builds up gradually and represents 60% to 70% of cases. Allergic contact dermatitis accounts for 20% to 30% cases. It either occurs after first exposure or years of exposure. This condition is diagnosed by patch testing and may take days or weeks to heal. Common causes include nickel, hair dye, cement and leather, etc.

Representing 5% of cases, contact urticarial occurs within 10 to 30 minutes upon contact with an allergen. Common causes are natural rubber latex, hairdressing bleach, and some foods. This condition is diagnosed by prick-testing or a blood test. Latex allergy starts as contact urticarial, though it occasionally develops into anaphylaxis. Hence, workers are recommended to wear non-powdered disposable latex gloves or gloves made from nitrile. Eczema is another type of OCD. Eczema differs from dermatitis because the former happens within the body while the latter occurs due to an external factor.



Prevention and Control of OCD

PPEs must be used to prevent direct contact with hazardous substances, as advised by the Health and Safety Authority, Ireland’s national body for occupational health and safety. Glove suppliers can offer advice when choosing the most appropriate gloves at work. Latex gloves should be avoided as workers can be afflicted with latex allergy; however, there are cases when latex gloves are helpful. Aprons and face masks must also be worn to control OCD.

Less hazardous substances must be used and excess material must be removed using local exhaust ventilation, drainage, or vacuum. Another way of preventing OCD is frequent handwashing. A facility’s choice of hand cleaners is important not only to remove the substance, but also to prevent the skin’s protective oily layer from being removed. Hand cleaners should not have harsh abrasives or organic solvents.



What Employees Need to Know About Workplace Hazards

Workers are to be provided with information about workplace hazards, including precautionary measures to prevent OCD. Those who are likely to be exposed to OCD should have access to label and safety data sheet for chemicals used at work. Substances that are known to cause OCD should also be known by workers. They also need to aware that excessive hand washing with soap and detergents can damage their skin, warned the Canadian Center for Occupational Health and Safety (CCOHS), an independent departmental corporation under Schedule II of the Financial Administration Act.

Some occupations such as those working in the textile industry are susceptible to OCD. Employers have the obligation to inform their employees about hazardous substances in the workplace and safety measures to prevent OCD. Workers and employers who might have OCD can contact their physician for early intervention.