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Saving your skin.

Skin disease from exposure to industrial chemicals is the most commonly reported occupational illness. Machinists frequently suffer from this disorder

use of their daily contact with cutting oils.

Established under OSHA in 1970, the National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health (NIOSH) is responsible for conducting research to make the workplace healthier and safer, responding to requests from management and employees, and issuing its evaluations and recommendations to reduce health-hazard exposure. In the case of cutting-oil skin diseases, preventative measures depend on a combination of reducing contamination in the oils, installing protective guards or ventilation, or adopting worker practices that reduce exposure.

Tracing irritants

The three basic types of cutting oils are: soluble or emulsified oils (oil-in-water), less-commonly used insoluble oils (straight or neat oils), and synthetic aqueous solutions (water-based). The synthetics are responsible for the highest prevalence of dermatitis among machinists.

About 80% of occupational contact dermatitis is caused by skin irritation. Reddening, rashes, or "oil acne" occurs when hair follicles and skin pores become plugged as a result of extended skin contact with oil, either through direct contact or contact with oil-soaked clothing.

The remaining 20% of cases result from allergic reaction, skin infection, or unknown causes. In allergic contact dermatitis, body sites other than that contacted may also develop a rash, and subsequent exposures can produce greater responses at even lower concentrations or exposure durations.

It is difficult to trace specific irritants. The causal agent can be an additive, such as a biocide or anticorrosive; the cutting-oil base itself; a combination of ingredients; or their degradation products formed through heat or bacterial action. Also, excessive or aggressive hand-washing can predispose one to dermatitis.

Thus, recommending any one control measure for a specific problem is difficult. Prevention of exposure is the key. Managers and workers must look at specific circumstances. and experiment with different preventive measures to the find the method that works best.

Other measures

There are other measures to prevent or reduce exposure:

Barrier creams. In some cases, a protective ointment or barrier cream can substitute for protective clothing. It must be applied to clean hands and forearms, and reapplied if hands and arms are washed. Its main benefit may well be to increase the need workers feel to wash their hands, removing both cream and cutting oil. Skin contact with the irritant is reduced more by the washing than by the barrier cream.

Although creams provide some protection for irritants, their effectiveness is questionable. They provide only slight protection against absorption of solvents and chemicals. Thus, you're advised to try them, and use them only if they seem to help.

Personal hygiene. Good hygiene can greatly reduce the incidence of skin rashes from cutting oils. Oil contaminants should be promptly removed from the skin and hands washed before eating. The company should provide easy access to wash basins, mild soap, soft brushes, and clean towels.

Workers should also guard against drying out the skin or abrading it. First, try removing oil by flushing with lukewarm water alone. Next, apply the mildest soap possible that will effectively clean. More persistently soiled areas may require the use of a soft brush. Abrasive soaps should be restricted to the palms, where skin is thicker. Skin moisturizers should be provided to replenish natural oils, preserving the skin's own protective mechanism.

Waterless cleansers can remove heavy soil effectively, where washing facilities are not readily available. However, these cleaners contain solvents that may also be irritating. Thus, their overuse can be as harmful as the substances they are intended to remove.

Emergency procedures. As soon as possible after an injury, workers should wash all cuts and scratches. They should then cover cuts with an appropriate dressing and change it as often as necessary to keep the abrasion free of oil and dirt. Prompt medical attention should be sought if the wound appears to be infected or irritated.

By Anne L Votaw, Hazard Evaluations & Technical Assistance Branch, National Institute for Occupational Safety & Health, Cincinnati, OH and Mary A Newman, PhD, Healthcare Environments Inc, Cincinnati, OH and Jane B McCammon, Colorado Department of Health, Denver, CO

Reducing exposure

Protective clothing measures can include:

* Wear gloves. Gloves can provide effective skin protection. The material choices are natural rubber, synthetic rubber, or plastic. The decision should be based on chemical resistance, because degradation, permeation, and penetration can occur with any of these. A 1986 Swedish study found that gloves of nitrile rubber provided the best protection against cutting oils. All gloves should be lined, fit securely, and cover at least one third of the forearm.

Used improperly, however, gloves can increase skin exposure. Gloves should not be pulled on over hands already covered with oil. Short gloves can trap oil under the cuff. Torn gloves should be immediately discarded.

* Use aprons. Chemically resistant, disposable, lightweight aprons should be provided to be worn over a heavier canvas apron. The outer apron should cover the front of the body, have a bib, and extend below the knees. Seams should be heat-sealed, not sewn, and have a trough at the base to prevent spills from reaching footwear.

* Avoid sleeves. Metalworkers should wear short sleeves to avoid the irritation of cuffs saturated with oil and swarf rubbing the skin.

* Keep clothing clean. Because oil-soaked clothing can hold contaminants in contact with the skin, the company should provide clean work clothes and protective gear daily.
COPYRIGHT 1992 Nelson Publishing
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Copyright 1992 Gale, Cengage Learning. All rights reserved.

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Title Annotation:includes related articles on protective clothing
Author:Votaw, Ann L.; Newman, Mary A.; McCammon, Jane B.
Publication:Tooling & Production
Date:Feb 1, 1992
Previous Article:Cleaning up the environment.
Next Article:Manual CMMs for accuracy and value.

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