Section 3.4 Occupationally Specific Advice Construction Workers

Construction workers are at risk of developing work-related skin problems such as occupational contact dermatitis, because of the many materials and substances they handle.

Common causes of irritant contact dermatitis include:

  • Cement
  • Water from wetting and washing hand frequently
  • Abrasive hand cleaners
  • Solvents
  • Saw dust
  • Fibre glass
  • Glues and adhesives
  • Tar
  • Putty and sealants
  • Heat and sweating
  • Friction, from using machinery

Common causes of allergic contact dermatitis include:

  • Epoxy resins and hardeners
  • Chromate in cement
  • Formaldehyde resins in the manufacture of chipboard and medium density fibreboard (MDF)
  • Rubber chemicals used in glove manufacture
  • Chemicals used in paints, stains and varnishes
  • Turpentine
  • Wood rosin found in pine and other timbers
  • Isocyanates in polyurethane glues and coatings
  • Wood glues

Advice to give construction workers about prevention and management of dermatitis

When a construction worker attends for an appointment, it is important to educate them about how to manage and prevent future cases of dermatitis. Some of this advice should include:

Making changes to the workplace

  • Minimise or avoid contact with potential allergens and irritants. This may be achieved through changes being made to the workplace, wearing appropriate personal protective equipment and following a good skin care regime.
  • Remove or replace irritating or harsh substances where possible
  • Remove solvents and gritty based hand washes from cleaning areas
  • Implement a skin care plan
  • Supply appropriate protective clothing

Wearing appropriate personal protective equipment

  • Waterproof gloves for wet work
  • Wear suitable gloves for the job, as some substances can penetrate through gloves. Detailed and specific information is available from safety equipment suppliers and is helpful for advising about the right glove to protect against specific chemicals
  • Rubber gloves and PVC (polyvinylchloride) gloves are useful against many other chemicals
  • Powdered latex gloves may contribute to latex allergy in some people with damaged skin. If latex gloves are worn, powder-free varieties are preferred
  • If wearing gloves for a long period of time, wear cotton gloves underneath to reduce sweating.

Develop a good skin care regime

  • Encourage the use of a good, greasy, fragrance-free moisturiser, especially at the end of the working day and before bed. A greasy, fragrance-free moisturiser is best.
  • Using a moisturiser or barrier cream before work makes cleaning the skin easier at the end of the day
  • Use commercial skin cleansers to clean, rather than solvents or abrasive hand cleaners
  • Use a soap substitute whenever possible (particularly if the skin is already damaged).

Other important skin tips

  • Never work with wet feet for long periods of time. Make sure that you wear waterproof boots, or if sweating is a problem, change your socks midway through your shift.

Construction workers and patch testing

Things to consider when patch testing someone from the construction industry:

SeriesAllergensAdditional notes
  • Australian Baseline Series
  • Rubber if using rubber gloves
  • Potassium dichromate (ABS)
  • Basic red 46 (ABS)
  • Colophony (if using pine) (ABS)
  • Other wood dusts as used
  • Cobalt allergy often co-exists with chromate allergy in cement workers (ABS)
  • Potassium dichromate may be tested at 0.25% in addition in case irritation occurs from 0.5% (in ABS)
  • Consider Epoxy Series and Isocyanate Series if applicable (two-part glues, aircraft or boat manufacturing, polyurethanes)
  • Consider ingredients of hand cleansers e.g. preservatives (generally in ABS) and fragrances
  • Basic red 46 often present in dark colored cheap acrylic-blend socks
  • Consider testing wood samples e.g. pine dust

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