Solution Summary: Protecting Your Skin from Epoxy Resin Systems
Epoxy resin systems can cause skin irritation and dermatitis. Good work practices using epoxy resin systems to reduce skin hazards include: (1) selecting and using gloves and other protective equipment (2) hand-washing (3) understanding the properties of epoxy resins (4) recognizing other safer substitutes for epoxy resins.
Selecting and Using Gloves
Epoxy resin systems contain a variety of chemicals - resins, hardeners, solvents and fillers - that can cause skin problems. Gloves often protect against only some of these ingredients. Select a glove that offers the best protection for the mixture of ingredients in the epoxy resin systems you use.
Glove manufacturers rate gloves for use with specific chemicals, by evaluating permeation and degradation properites of the glove material:
Permeation rate measures how quickly specific chemicals or classes of chemicals travel through, or permeate, the glove materials. Choose gloves with low permeability rates for the chemicals you handle. Keep in mind that most chemicals can eventually pass through gloves and contact the skin.
Degradation rate measures how quickly a chemical breaks down the glove material. Many of the chemicals in epoxy resins cause glove materials to degrade over time.
Workers need to change gloves before permeation or degradation can occur. Ask your epoxy product supplier for glove recommendations. Also, check with glove manufacturers about the epoxy system you are using. They issue glove selection tables and may be able to help you select the best glove. Please refer to Table 1 below for an example.
Note: Although Ethyl Vinyl Alcohol (EVAL) laminate gloves are rated highest in protection factor against epoxy resins systems and components, these gloves have hydrophilic properties and may not be suitable for construction tasks and environments with water exposure.
Never use cotton gloves when working with epoxies. Cotton absorbs chemicals used in epoxies and holds the chemicals against the skin. Even though cotton gloves are readily available, inexpensive, and comfortable, they do not protect the hands from epoxy resins and may actually cause more serious skin problems.
Never use latex gloves when working with epoxies. Latex absorbs chemicals used in epoxies, and may even dissolve in contact with these chemicals. Latex is highly permeable and degrades easily. What’s more, latex is known to cause allergic reactions in some people.
Don’t use barrier creams with epoxies. Barrier creams, or “invisible gloves,"are not recommended for many kinds of epoxy work. Contact with abrasive materials can break the seal of the barrier cream. Also, reapplying the cream in the work area may seal the chemicals to the skin.
Selecting and Using Other Protective Equipment
Chemical-resistant overalls should be worn over work clothes to prevent epoxy chemicals from soaking into clothing and contacting skin. The longer the epoxy materials stay on the skin, the more harm they can cause. Coveralls also protect the skin from powdered materials. Tyvek® coveralls can provide adequate protection for work with dry materials. There are numerous suppliers of chemical-resistant coveralls and other protective garments.
Protective sleeves can be worn with gloves to protect arms from chemical contact and splashes.
Aprons can be used instead of coveralls or as additional protection. Select chemicalresistant
apron materials, such as butyl rubber.
Rubber boots with pants taped inside help protect the skin and prevent chemicals from entering through the top of the boots.
Practicing Hand-Washing Practices
Protecting skin is not just a matter of wearing gloves. To prevent skin problems, epoxy resins must be removed from the skin by thorough washing. Follow these steps to minimize workers’ skin contact
with epoxy resins:
Install a hand washing station equipped with water, mild soap (pH neutral or slightly acidic), and towels. Warm water is best. Liquid soaps are generally the mildest.
Locate the washing station in a place that workers can access throughout the shift.
Maintain adequate supplies of soap, dry towels, and warm water.
Train workers on the need to wash hands regularly.
Make sure workers wash hands and other exposed skin parts of the body before lunch and breaks, after gloves are removed, in the event of chemical splash, and at the end of the shift.
Ensure that supervisors give enough time for workers to wash up during the work shift.
Each worker needs at least 5 to 7 gallons of clean running water per day.
If large quantities of chemicals are used or stored at the site, much larger amounts of water may be needed for washing and spill clean-up.
Prohibit cleaning with abrasive or solvent-containing products. These include waterless hand cleaners such as the alcohol-based gels or citrus cleaners. These cleaners may increase the risk of skin irritation.
Some epoxies cannot be readily removed by soap and water. Always check with the epoxy product manufacturer for recommended handwashing procedures and products.
Understanding Epoxy Resin Properties
The more the workers know about the epoxy resin systems, the better prepared they will be to protect themselves and their coworkers. Such knowledge about the chemicals they come in contact with can be obtained through Material Safety Data Sheets (MSDSs) and labels.
Every MSDS contains the following information:
- Product name, manufacturer, and contact information
- Chemical ingredients, amount in product, physical properties
- Health effects such as dermatitis, respiratory irritation, and nervous system effects
- Exposure limits and fire hazards
- Protective measures – gloves, clothing, ventilation controls
- Spill response procedures
Labels also contain useful information about product hazards and worker protection. All labels should have the name of the product and manufacturer, a brief description of health effects, and recommendations for safe handling.
Safer Substitutes for Epoxy Resin Systems
The best way to protect workers from hazardous substances is to substitute them with safer materials. Epoxy resin systems are used widely because of the durability and hardness of the finish, their compatibility with a variety of substrates, and easy application. Finding safer products that achieve the same effects requires the commitment and cooperation of architects, owners, product manufacturers and
suppliers, contractor associations, labor management groups, and unions. Suppliers want to sell products. If end-users push for new, less hazardous products, suppliers and manufacturers are more likely to pursue safer replacements.
Here are a few points to consider when seeking safer epoxy resin systems:
- Single-component epoxy systems are usually safer than two-part products. The hazardous monomers in the single component epoxies are already partially reacted.
- Polyamide and cycloaliphatic amine curing agents are generally less irritating than the simpler aliphatic chemicals.
- High-molecular-weight resins are less potent skin sensitizers than bisphenol-A and other low-molecular weight resins.
- Reduced-solvent content or solvent-free products minimize health effects due to solvents.
Skin irritation and dermatitis from dermal exposure to epoxy resin systems.
How Risks are Reduced:
Gloves and other protective clothing provide a barrier between the skin and chemicals.
Gloves and other protective clothing could be used to cover the skin when harmful chemicals can not be removed from the job process.
Effects on Productivity:
Wearing gloves reduces clean-up and inury time due to skin problems. Providing a range of sizes makes it easier for workers to choose gloves that fit well and that minimize job interference.
Wearing gloves without proper fitment may decrease dexterity and slow down the job process. Using properly fitted gloves are reported to cause the least interference with production.
Extensive use of epoxy resins may also create a respiratory hazard.
Use of any glove may be hazardous when using powered equipment.
Gloves may be flammable, especially when used against solvents and other flammable materials. Keep away from flames and hot surfaces.
Gloves made of butyl rubber or nitrile are often recommended for use with epoxies and solvents. Nitrile gloves often come in different thicknesses.