Skin contact with epoxy resin systems


Problem:

Workers who pave and patch concrete and asphalt may face hazards from skin contact with epoxy resin systems.  Epoxy resins may be found in the following materials:

  • Concrete bonding
  • Epoxy flooring
  • Marble laminate products
  • Durable paints
  • Plumbing sealants
  • Waterproof epoxy coatings
  • Potting compounds

Risk Description:

Epoxy resin systems contain skin irritant compounds which may cause allergic dermatitis and other skin disorders including abrasions.

Epoxy resin systems are chemical mixtures composed of two main components, the epoxy resin and the curing agent, also known as the “hardener.”  The most common epoxy resins are glycidyl ethers of alcohols; liquid epoxy resin is the diglycidyl ether of bisphenol-A.  The most common curing agents are usually composed of amine compounds.  Both components are potent skin irritants.

Hexavalent chromium, a sensitizer which elicit allergic responses, may also be found in epoxies.

Dermatitis is a general term for skin rashes and other skin ailments. Exposure to the compounds in epoxy resin systems can cause skin problems ranging from mild irritation to severe and long-lasting sores and rashes. The two main skin conditions caused by exposure to epoxy resin systems are irritant contact dermatitis and allergic contact dermatitis.

  • Irritant Contact Dermatitis (ICD) is skin damage caused by contact with irritants.  Signs of ICD include stinging, blisters, dead skin, scabs, scaling, cracks, redness, swelling, bumps, and watery discharge.  Itching is common, and there is often pain in the affected areas. Both chemical and physical actions (such as abrasion) on the skin can cause ICD. Strong chemical irritants include acids and caustics. Soap and water and solvents are weak skin irritants. Weak irritants are slower to cause skin reactions than strong irritants, but both can damage the skin with enough contact.  Epoxy resin system fillers, such as fiberglass, cause skin abrasions. These abrasions make the skin more vulnerable to other irritants in the epoxies. Anyone who has contact with skin irritants can get ICD.  In most cases, ICD clears up when the skin no longer contacts the irritant.
     
  • Allergic Contact Dermatitis (ACD) is skin damage caused by contact with sensitizers. A sensitizer is a substance that causes reactions only in people who are allergic, or sensitive, to that substance.  ACD includes many of the same symptoms as ICD. The severity of the symptoms varies widely from one person to another, depending on the individual’s sensitivity to the allergen. But most people can become allergic if they are exposed to an allergen often enough.

    The most common sensitizer found in epoxy resin systems are amine hardeners.  In a controlled study, dermatologists used skin patch tests comparing sensitized workers and workers with no prior exposure to the epoxy resin systems.  The results show that occupational allergic dermatitis was mainly induced by an epoxy hardener (alkylamine).  

    Another sensitizer found in cement-based epoxies is hexavalent chromium (hexchrom or Cr[VI]).  You can find more information in the hazard analysis 'Skin Contact with Portland Cement'.
     

Level of Risk:

There are no studies that tell us how many masons have allergic dermatitis, or how many will develop it in any given year (incidence), in the United States. We do have some information from workers compensation claims, but the true rate of dermatitis is certainly higher that the number of dermatitis claims to workers compensation, for research has shown that most occupational diseases are under-reported. In Oregon between 1990 and 1997 the claim rate to workers compensation was 7/100,000 construction workers, and a study from Germany found a similar incidence. A study in Finland found that almost 9% of concrete prefabrication workers had work-related hand dermatitis. Among construction workers with skin problems 65% of the dermatitis was caused by work, with 40% being allergic to chromium, 10% to nickel, and 7.5% to epoxy resins in one study. In the German study noted above, the incidence of dermatitis among tile setters and terrazzo workers was 10 times that of a low risk construction occupation.

Bock M, Schmidt A, Bruckner T, Diepgen TL. Occupational Skin Disease in the Construction Industry. Br J Dermatol. 2003 Dec;149(6):1165-71.

Conde-Salazar L, Guimarans D, Villegas C, Romero A, Gonzalez MA. Occupational Allergic Contact Dermatitis in Construction Workers. Contact Dermatis, 1995, 33, 226-230.

McCall BP, Horwitz IB, Feldman SR, Balkrishman R. Incidence Rates, Costs, Severity, and Work-Related Factors of Occupational Dermatitis: A Workers' Compensation Analysis of Oregon, 1990-1997. Arch Dermatol. June 2005,141:713-718.

Roto P, Saino H, Reunala T, Laippala P. Additions of Ferrous Sulfate to Cement and Risk of Chromium Dermatitis among Construction Workers. Contact Dermatitis. 1996 Jan;34(1):43-50.


Assessment Info:

Here are some tools you can use to measure the risk for dermatitis, and find ways to reduce the risk.  You might also think of other tools including:

  • Observations and reports of work/personal practices
  • Symptoms checklist

Consider comparing your group of workers with themselves before and after beginning a program to reduce dermatitis (see solutions).  Use written checklists. Watch your employees work and take reports from them of what they do to are compare a group before and after.  Which best practices are the employees currently doing? Which are they failing to do? Keep a written record of observations. Have employees complete a symptoms checklist of the skin problems they currently have, with no names attached.

Best Practices Checklist

___ 1. Wash with clean running water and pH-neutral soap.
___ 2. Wear correct gloves.
___ 3. Wash before putting on gloves.
___ 4. Wash again whenever gloves are removed.
___ 5. Use disposable gloves or clean reusable gloves daily.
___ 6. Remove gloves properly.
___ 7. Wear glove liners.
___ 8. No jewelry at work.
___ 9. Long sleeves buttoned or taped inside gloves.
___ 10. Rubber boots with pants taped inside for concrete work.
___ 11. Never let cement remain on skin or clothes.
___ 12. Avoid barrier creams
___ 13. Avoid skin softening products at work.
___ 14. Change out of work clothes before leaving jobsite.
___ 15. See a doctor for any persistent skin problem

Symptoms Checklist

___ 1. Check if you had at least one skin problem during the last 12 months
___ 2. Check if you currently have the skin problem.
___ 3. If you have a skin problem, check all the words that apply
 
___ redness
___ burning
___ blisters
___ fissures
___ oozing
___ bumps/papules
___ scaling or peeling or dead skin
___ other (describe):
___ stinging
___ pain
___ itching
___ bleeding
___ rash

Worksite conditions can determine whether a worksite material will cause skin problems.

  • How long does the material contact the skin?
  • How often does a worker use the material?
  • Is there mechanical trauma or abrasion of the skin (a break in the barrier)?
  • Is the material trapped or occluded to the skin with gloves, creams, lotions, petroleum jelly, or barrier creams?
  • Are there adequate hygiene facilities?


Environmental factors can cause skin problems directly or they can work with other factors to increase skin problems:

  • Heat causes sweating. Sweat dissolves chemicals and brings them into closer contact with the skin. Heat increases blood flow at the skin surface and increases absorption of materials into and through the skin.
  • Cold dries the skin and causes microscopic cracks. Cold changes blood flow at the skin surface and leads to loss of feeling.
  • Humidity increases sweating. High humidity keeps sweat from evaporating. Extremely low humidity can dry skin as sweat evaporates.
  • Sun burns and damages skin. Sun can increase absorption of chemicals. Sun reacts with some chemicals to cause photosensitization.


Individual factors can affect work-related skin problems. These include:

  • pre-existing dermatitis
  • genetic predisposition
  • knowledge
  • attitude
  • personal behavior/workpractice

Regulations & Standards:

OSHA standard 1926.28, titled Personal Protective Equipment, in safety and health regulations for construction must be in place. The employer is responsible for requiring the wearing of appropriate personal protective equipment in all operations where there is an exposure to hazardous conditions or where this part indicates the need for using such equipment to reduce the hazards to the employees.

OSHA standard 1926.59, titled Hazard Communication, in safety and health regulations for construction must be in place. The purpose of this section is to ensure that the hazards of all chemicals produced or imported are evaluated, and that information concerning their hazards is transmitted to employers and employees. This transmittal of information is to be accomplished by means of comprehensive hazard communication programs, which are to include container labeling and other forms of warning, material safety data sheets and employee training.

Regulations adopted by a state must be at least as protective as the corresponding federal standard. Work may also be subject to rules of other federal, state and local agencies. Even where there is no hazard specific standard, OSHA prohibits employers from to work in surroundings or under working conditions which are unsanitary, hazardous, or dangerous to his health or safety.

 

Federal OSHA Standards are enforced by the U.S. Department of Labor in 26 states. There are currently 22 states and jurisdictions operating complete State plans (covering both the private sector and state and local government employees) and 5 - Connecticut, Illinois, New Jersey, New York and the Virgin Islands - which cover public employees only. If you are working in one of those states or jurisdictions you should ensure that you are complying with their requirements.