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If you frequently operate metalworking equipment, you are likely no stranger to contact dermatitis. Dermatitis, or eczema, typically presents itself as an uncomfortable, red, itchy rash. It is caused by many types of chemicals, including oils, solvents, greases, and cleaners. Dermatitis can even be caused by certain soaps, particularly if they are too abrasive and remove natural oils in the skin that serve as protection. It is important for equipment operators to be properly trained in material handling and PPE to prevent this condition.

First, remember that everyone reacts differently to different materials, meaning something that causes an inflammation in one person may not do so for someone else. Dermatitis can be caused by all types of surface contact, so it may be difficult to identify the culprit of the irritation. For example, sometimes using dish soap to wash your hands can remove a protective oil layer from your skin, which can then lead to contact dermatitis from various chemicals. Proper hand washing and moisturizing is often a key preventative measure.

There are several ways to minimize dermatitis concerns in a workplace. Consider the 3 major factors below to ensure that you are maintaining a safe and clean environment in your machine shop:

1. Monitor concentration:

Quaker Houghton products will specify the appropriate concentration range for your metalworking fluid on the TDS. Keeping your fluids at this range and at the correct pH will help minimize irritation. If an increase in performance is desired, it is usually better to switch to a different product that is intended to be used at a higher concentration to avoid any risks.

2. Minimize contamination:

Metalworking processes generate chips, fines, and oil residue that are found anywhere throughout the process. Tramp oils that contaminate the metalworking fluid not only increase the potential for dermatitis but can also lead to microbial growth and impact tool life. Metal fines and chips can cause cuts and irritation to the skin, as well as a reduction in tool performance.

3. Minimize exposure:

Obtain an SDS for the fluid you are using and reference the “Personal Protection” section for information regarding how to protect yourself or your employees from chemical exposure. This section may recommend the use of personal protective equipment, including goggles, gloves, aprons, and face masks. Equipment guards are also an effective way to decrease splashing and avoid direct chemical contact.

While bacteria were thought to be a primary cause of contact dermatitis in the past, it turns out that bacteria do not lead to dermatitis at all. Bacteria can worsen the condition, but the main culprits of dermatitis are incorrect concentrations, dirty systems, and improper PPE. Considering these factors when monitoring your shop will help keep your shop free of harmful irritants and will protect operators.

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