Section 3.5 Occupationally Specific Advice Mechanical and Metal Workers

Mechanics who work on industrial machines, cars, trucks, buses or trains, come into contact with substances that can be damaging to the skin. Every day they are handling oils, greases, lubricants, fuels and engine fluids, detergents and strong solvents. This can often lead to the development of occupational contact dermatitis.

For mechanics and metal workers the most common irritants include:

  • Detergents
  • Grease and mineral oils
  • Solvents and thinners
  • Fuel, transmission and brake fluids
  • Adhesives
  • Soaps and skin cleaners
  • Water, from washing hands frequently
  • Frequently drying hands with paper towels
  • Heat and sweating

For mechanics and metal workers the main allergens are:

  • Biocides in water-based oils
  • Rubber accelerators found in tyres, shock absorbers and gloves
  • Surfactants and fragrances in hand cleaners
  • Nickel in tools and mechanical parts
  • Preservatives in cleansers and other products

Contact urticaria

It is rare for mechanics or metal workers to develop contact urticaria, but it may occur if they wear latex or medical style gloves.

Advice to give people working in the mechanical/metal working/automotive industry

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

Use a moisturiser: See Section 7.2 Skin Care

Wear appropriate gloves for the job: See Section 7.3 Glove Selection

Selection of appropriate gloves for the management of hand dermatitis may be challenging, given that the protective capabilities of gloves are dependent on many variables.

Gloves should be selected based on the specific task and associated chemical exposures. Glove choice is often difficult for mechanics given their role e.g. handling moving parts. Thin gloves provide greater user comfort and dexterity than thicker gloves made from the same material5 but glove thickness plays a major role in chemical permeation.

  • For wet work and when using detergents or handling greasy equipment wear either PVC (polyvinyl chloride) or rubber gloves
  • To help reduce sweating, wear cotton gloves underneath
  • Non-powdered latex gloves

Patch testing and mechanical/ metal workers

When patch testing someone working in this industry consider testing the following:

SeriesAllergensAdditional notes
  • Australian Baseline Series
  • Rubber series if using rubber gloves
  • Oil and Cooling Fluid Series-if performing metal fabrication using coolants
  • Potassium dichromate (ABS)
  • Basic red 46 (ABS)
  • Blood serum test for latex if wearing latex/rubber gloves (formerly known as a RAST test)
  • Consider ingredients of hand cleaners e.g. preservatives and fragrances (generally in the ABS)
  • Basic red 46, a textile dye often present in dark colored cheap acrylic-blend socks- in textile series, which might be relevant for those with foot dermatitis.

Videos to watch:


Recommended reading

For further information please refer to: 

Section 2.3 on contact urticaria

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