Working with Chemical Sensitizers-February 2009

Monthly Round Up of Important Ideas and Standards in
Industrial Hygiene and Safety 

February 2009

N THIS ISSUE: Working with Chemical Sensitizers

Certain chemicals, called sensitizers, cause a substantial proportion of the exposed population to develop an allergic reaction in normal tissue after repeated exposure.  As a result, the immune system reacts to a harmless substance as if it were toxic.

“Once you are sensitized to a chemical, even minute amounts will cause symptoms,” explains Gary R. Ticker, CIH, CSP, of OccuSafe, Inc. “These symptoms range from minor skin rashes to dangerous respiratory complications.”

Skin sensitization is the most common type of allergic reaction.  Avoiding contact with the chemical by using personal protective equipment, such as gloves, is an important control.  Ironically, latex gloves are also common skin sensitizers.  Latex exposure can be avoided by using Nitrile gloves.  

Some sensitizers have more grave consequences including respiratory effects such as asthma, anaphylaxis, or death. Isocyanates, used in paints and packing foam, is an example of a respiratory sensitizer.  Employees who become sensitized to isocyanates should avoid all contact.  

“There is no safe exposure level to a respiratory sensitizer,” says Ticker. “To protect employees, replacing the chemical with a safer substitute is ideal.”

In addition to substitution, there are a number of things that an employer can do to prevent dangerous allergic reactions:

1. Check the MSDS on all chemicals for possible allergic reactions.

2. Effectively monitor employee to chemical sensitizers.

3. Educate employees about the signs and symptoms of allergic reactions.

For more information on this topic and to discuss your company’s safety and industrial hygiene needs call OccuSafe at (214) 662-6005 or visit us at

OccuSafe Environmental and Safety, Inc. provides skills and expertise to recognize, evaluate and control hazards and injuries in the areas of industrial hygiene, occupational safety and health.   OccuSafe services companies of all sizes in a range of industries.

This newsletter is published monthly by OccuSafe Environmental and Safety Services, Inc.   Feel free to forward it to friends and colleagues.

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