PPE prevents health risks due to skin exposure - bare hands work oil.jpg

Importance of PPE to prevent health risks due to skin exposure

The need for protective gear in certain situations is often very clear, but are you making sure you or your employees are properly protected from the less obvious dangers in the workplace? Masks and respirators provide vital protection against many chemicals, but it is just as important to ensure that you skin is well covered and protected at all times. A large number of workers from a variety of different industries in the US are potentially exposed to chemicals that can be absorbed through the skin on a daily basis, and without proper protective gear they may be leaving themselves open to potentially life threatening consequences.

The skin is the body’s largest organ and barrier protection is one of the most important of all its functions, but while it excels at keeping things out, it is also quite adept at absorption, or letting things in. Dermal absorption is not just affected by physical factors such as skin integrity, hydration, density of hair follicles, and thickness of the skin at the site of exposure, but also the actual substance the skin is exposed to itself. The physiochemical properties of the substance, how concentrated the substance is, as well as how long the skin is exposed to the substance all play a role. For example, small cuts, excessive hand washing and excessive use of hand sanitizers can all create a higher risk of absorbing dangerous chemicals or fumes through the skin.

Prioritize skin protection

Historically, efforts to control workplace exposures to hazardous chemicals have focused on inhalation, which has led to a lack of standardized methods for measuring and assessing skin exposure, or for setting exposure limits. In addition to this, some chemicals initially thought to be safe, are now thought to result in a variety of immune, reproductive, and/or developmental effects as well as cancer, diabetes, and even obesity. So even if you are working with the proper face masks or respirators, you need to ensure that the rest of you is well protected as well.

Dangers in Manufacturing

There are a few occupations that have been identified as having the highest potential for dermal chemical exposure, and among them the manufacturing sector has the highest number of cases of occupational skin diseases. Approximately 1.2 million workers are potentially exposed to metalworking fluids in machine finishing, machine tooling, and other metal related operations. These fluids are often complex mixtures of oils, emulsifiers, anti-weld agents, buffers, biocides and other additives which have been used since the early 1900s to reduce heat and friction associated with industrial machining and grinding operations. While they improve product quality, chronic skin exposure to these fluids have been known to cause dermatitis as well as a variety of other skin and systemic health issues.

Squamous cell carcinoma, folliculitis, keratosis, pigmentary changes, granuloma, photosensitivity reaction and an increased incidence of certain kinds of cancers such as breast, lung, liver, pancreatic, bladder, brain and prostate have all been traced back to extended exposure to metalworking fluids.

Oftentimes exposure to various metals themselves has also led to complications. Numerous metals are known to induce hypersensitivity responses that lead to skin, respiratory and other systemic diseases. Chemical resistant clothing and gloves are an absolute must when working in such hazardous situations, and to offer the best protection they must be well fitting and durable.

Staying Safe in Healthcare

Healthcare workers also represent a large group with a high incidence of occupational skin diseases. A number of surface disinfectants or sterilization chemicals have been found to be common sources of allergens known to cause dermatitis and occupational asthma, along with certain kinds of antibacterial hand sanitizers and soaps. For example, for over 40 years glutaraldehyde was the primary choice for disinfecting heat-sensitive medical devices despite the fact that its toxicity was well documented. Its use has been associated with many cases of dermatitis and has often led to chronic conditions so acute that it forced individuals to leave their jobs. Repetitive exposure to wet work and repetitive glove use, common in this field, can also cause the skin to become more susceptible to chemical penetration and lead to a number of health conditions. It is vital to select the proper work gloves to minimize these risks, while being conscious of potential latex allergies that might aggravate a problem even further.


Large numbers of individuals from every occupational sector are exposed to potentially hazardous chemicals, and these numbers are only increasing with new developments in the various fields. While immediate skin issues as a result of direct chemical contact are among the most common and well-understood occupational dangers, it is also important to understand the potential systemic effects that occur due to regular, but less noticeable instances of exposure. Each work situation must be carefully evaluated to ensure that proper safety gear is selected and utilized to prevent not just short-term dangers, but also long-term health issues.

Legion Safety offers a comprehensive catalog of protective gear products, including a huge selection of work gloves, that are perfectly suited for all of the various needs unique to your business. Contact us today to see how we can ensure the proper safety of you and your team, now and many years into the future.