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Have We Learned Anything About Safety Over the Last Fifty Years? (Nov/Dec-22)
OSHA Annouces 2021 Top 10 Frequently Cited Standards (Sep/Oct-22)
Have You Conducted Your Periodic Lockout & Tagout Audit? (Jan/Feb-22)
Workplace Violence (Jul/Aug-21)
Do You or Your Supervisors Really Care About Worker Safety? (May/Jun-21)
Creating A Safety Culture (Nov/Dec-20)
Before You Purchase New Machinery (Sep/Oct-20)
Do You or Your Supervisors Really Care About Worker Safety? (May/Jun-20)
OSHA Issues Interim Guidance to Help Prevent Worker Exposure to Coronavirus (COVID-19) (Mar/Apr-20)
Have You Recently Conducted Your Required Safety & Health Program Audits? (Nov/Dec-19)
Does OSHA Cite Employers Equally? (May/Jun-19)
Are You Ready For The New Year? (Mar/Apr-19)
Creating a Safety Culture Means Staying Informed (Nov/Dec-18)
Safe Lifting Techniques (Sep/Oct-18)
Are Your Machines Safe to Operate? (Jul/Aug-18)
Do You Know How Old Your Tires Really Are? (Jan/Feb-18)
Risk Assessment & Premise Liability Insurance (Nov/Dec-17)
Forklift Safety – You Can Save A Life Today (Sep/Oct-17)
Protect Your Employees from Heat Stress Related Injuries (Jul/Aug-17)
Lockout-Tagout from a Manager’s Perspective (May/Jun-17)
Do Your Employees Really Know How to Use Personal Protective Equipment? (Mar/Apr-17)
OSHA & Lockout/Tagout (Nov/Dec-16)
OSHA Increases Their Penalties Towards Employers (Jul/Aug-16)
Do You Know What Your Experience Modification Rate Is? (May/Jun-16)
Machine Safety (Sep/Oct-15)
Lockout, Tagout & Tryout – Are You in Compliance? (Jul/Aug-15)
Forklift Safety Practices (May/Jun-15)
Using the Right Power Saw to Cut Plastic Materials (Mar/Apr-15)
OSHA & Machine Safeguarding (Jan/Feb-15)
Ergonomics (Sep/Oct-14)
Respiratory Protection . . . Does Your Program Protect? (May/Jun-14)
First Aid Program (Mar/Apr-14)
Working with Composite Materials Safely and Preventing Dermatitis (Jan/Feb-14)
Preventing Winter Slips, Trips and Falls (Nov/Dec-13)
The Globally Harmonized System for Hazard Communication – Are You Ready For It? (Sep/Oct-13)
Safety & New Employee Orientation (Jul/Aug-13)
Liquefied Petroleum Gas Safety (May/Jun-13)
Posting of OSHA Notices (Jan/Feb-13)
Staying Safe This Winter (Nov/Dec-12)
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Getting Familiar with OSHA (Mar/Apr-12)
Is Your Piping Systems Properly Marked? (Jan/Feb-12)
Accident Prevention, Does Your Company Have An Effective Program? (Nov/Dec-11)
Defining FR – Flame Resistant Fabrics (Jul/Aug-11)
OSHA's Flammable & Combustible Liquids (May/Jun-11)
Safety & Health Program Check-up (Jan/Feb-11)
OSHA Is My Friend (Nov/Dec-10)
OSHA Standard for Control of Hazardous Energy Sources? (Sep/Oct-10)
Lockout/Tagout Program (Jul/Aug-10)
Safe Handling of Compressed Gas Cylinders (May/Jun-10)
What You Should Know about OSHA and Plastic Working Machinery (Mar/Apr-10)
Fasten Those Forklift Seat Belts (Jan/Feb-10)
My Back Hurts (Nov/Dec-09)
Fall Protection Program (Sep/Oct-09)
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OSHA & Machine Safeguarding (May/Jun-09)
Carbon Monoxide Hazards (Mar/Apr-09)
OSHA Electrical Safety and Training (Jan/Feb-09)
Free Forklift ANSI Standards (Nov/Dec-08)
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Machine Safety (Jul/Aug-08)
Ladder Safety (May/Jun-08)
Is Your Company on OSHA's Hit List?
OSHA Notifies Workplaces with High Injury and Illness Rates (Mar/Apr-08)
Safety Means . . . Never Having to Say You're Sorry (Jan/Feb-08)
Flammables and Combustible Liquids (Nov/Dec-07)
Designing-In Safety NOT Retrofitting Safety (Sep/Oct-07)
Back Safety and Lifting (Jul/Aug-07)
Machine Guarding (May/Jun-07)
Your Hearing Keep it for a Lifetime (Mar/Apr-07)
Light Up the Holidays the Safe Way (Nov/Dec-06)
Would You Risk Your Employee's Life? (Sep/Oct-06)
How to Control Workers' Compensation Costs (Jul/Aug-06)
Compliance with 70E Electrical Standards (May/Jun-06)
OSHA Is on the Move (Mar/Apr-06)
Workplace Violence (Jan/Feb-06)
The Aging Workforce (Nov/Dec-05)
The Safety Paradox (Sep/Oct-05)
Machine Guarding (Jul/Aug-05)
Effective Risk Management (May/Jun-05)
Safety Is Everyone's Business (Mar/Apr-05)
New Year's Resolution Safety (Jan/Feb-05)
Safe Driving (Nov/Dec-04)
Terror In The Skies Revisited (Sep/Oct-04)
How They Got Hurt (Jul/Aug-04)
In-Plant Air Monitoring & Analysis (May/Jun-04)
Safety on the Job and Complying with the Americans With Disabilities Act (Mar/Apr-04)
Link to Article Archive (Jan/Feb-04)
A Supervisor's Duty (Nov/Dec-03)
Machine Safety – Are Your Machines Safe to Operate? (Sep/Oct-03)
Summer is Here (Jul/Aug-03)
Working Safely On Powered Industrial Trucks (Forklifts) (May/Jun-03)
Does Your Safety and Health Workplace Program Contain All of These Elements? (Mar/Apr-03)
Methylene Chloride (Jan/Feb-03)
Safety Signs & Labels - Does Your Facility Comply? (Nov/Dec-02)
Indoor Air Quality (Sep/Oct-02)
When OSHA Arrives (Jul/Aug-02)
Facts About the Occupation Safety & Health Administration (OSHA) (May/Jun-02)
Workplace Fire Safety (Mar/Apr-02)
OSHA 300 Form (Jan/Feb-02)
Preparing for Disaster (Nov/Dec-01)
How Much is a Life Worth? (Sep/Oct-01)
Material Handling Programs (Jul/Aug-01)
It's Up To You To Protect Your Skin (May/Jun-01)
When You’ve Been Handed the Responsibility for Safety (Mar/Apr-01)
A Fresh Look at Machine Safeguarding (Jan/Feb-01)
Safe Work Habits (Nov/Dec-00)
The Importance of Material Safety Data Sheets (Sep/Oct-00)
Hazardous Waste Operations and Emergency Response (Jul/Aug-00)
Lockout/Tagout Program (May/Jun-00)
OSHA Violations, Citations and Penalties for 1998 (Mar/Apr-00)
Erogonomics and Machinery Safeguarding (Jan/Feb-00)
General Machine Principles (Nov/Dec-99)
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SAFETY SOLUTIONS: Working with Composite Materials Safely and Preventing Dermatitis

The composites industry in the United States includes three manufacturing areas: polymers, metals, and ceramics. This Safety and Health Topic section deals with that segment of the industry known as polymer matrix composites.

What are composite materials?

Composite materials consist of a binder or matrix material (often a resin) and a reinforcement, such as fibers or particles. There are three general types of composite materials: fiber-reinforced, particulate reinforced, or laminar composites. There are many different types of fibers used in composite production, including glass, carbon, other organic fibers, Aramid (Kevlar®), boron, continuous silicon carbide, and aluminium oxide. Of these, glass and carbon are the most widely used.

Some components of composite materials are sensitizers, meaning that exposures to these materials can cause workers to become allergic to them. Advanced Composite Materials (ACM), are high performance materials such as prepregs, resin transfer molding compounds, and reinforced film adhesives.

This information focuses on prepreg ACM use.

Why should I be concerned about composites?

People working in the production of composite materials or manufacturing of products using fiber-reinforced composites are at increased risk of developing dermatitis. Dermatitis is an inflammation of the skin, which may start with symptoms of redness, itching, swelling, and a burning or hot sensation. Without treatment, dermatitis can progress to broken or blistering skin, scaling, infection, eczema, or psoriasis.

Dermatitis is preventable!

Almost everyone working in facilities manufacturing composites or products made of composite materials has the potential for exposure to skin irritants, allergens, or sensitizers. Maintenance personnel, laboratory workers, technicians, shipping workers, and production workers can be exposed to prepregs, solvents, lubricants, resins, fibers, detergents, hardeners, strippers, and degreasers. The materials used in composite manufacturing can also cause other health effects, including occupational asthma and eye irritation. Employees working with composites may be particularly vulnerable to these skin problems because of continuous workplace exposure to fibers (which act as mechanical irritants), resin systems, solvents, and other chemicals. A recent survey of occupational skin disorders in the State of Washington, examined industry specific workers’ compensation claim rates. Half of the industries with the highest rates use composite-fiber resin systems, including sporting and athletic goods manufacturing; plastic products manufacturing; boat building and repairing; and aircraft parts and equipment.

For the years 1993 through 1997 there were an average of approximately 61,000 reported cases per year of occupational skin disease in the United States. Skin disease accounts for about 13% of all occupational diseases over this time period. who develop dermatitis will have long-term or chronic skin problems. Workers becoming sensitized to the material may have to move to another job or change occupations completely.

What can I do to prevent dermatitis while working with ACM?

Several steps can be taken to protect skin and prevent dermatitis from starting. When thinking about eliminating or reducing worker exposures it is important to rank exposure control methods in order of effectiveness.

At the Source ---- Most Effective Control

Along the Path At the Worker ---- Least Effective Control

The most effective exposure control is to eliminate the exposure, for example substituting a less hazardous substance for a more hazardous substance. This approach will not work in all situations. When elimination cannot be used, the hazard may be intercepted along its exposure pathway. Local exhaust ventilation is an example of a control for airborne exposures to dusts or chemical mists or vapors. In the case of dermal exposures in compositeusing industries, sweeps and rollers can be used to prevent direct contact with these materials.

Those controls implemented by the worker are the last level of exposure control. This level of control should be considered the "last resort" after other forms of exposure control have been considered technologically infeasible. It is appropriate to rely on personal protective equipment (PPE) while more effective forms of exposure control are being installed. Exposure controls implemented at the worker include PPE and administrative controls (work scheduling, worker training, and policies).

To effectively combat dermatitis, an exposure control plan should be developed.

1. "Zero Contact"

The best approach to prevent dermatitis while working with a composite material is not to have any direct skin contact with it. This can be done many ways:

  • Engineering Controls such as computer driven pattern cutters (robotics) or local exhaust ventilation.
  • Tools such as sweeps or rollers.
  • Personal Protective Equipment, such as gloves and shop coats. Many workers resist wearing gloves because they claim the gloves interfere with their ability to “feel” the work. Ill-fitting gloves can interfere with dexterity and sensitivity.

However, well fitting gloves, selected for the specific exposure hazard, and worn consistently and correctly can be an effective component of an overall exposure control program.

Dermatitis can occur in other parts of the body besides the hands, including the arms, face, trunk and legs. Protective clothing such as lab coats, arm protectors, goggles, hats, and aprons can reduce body exposure. Loose, long-sleeved shirts and pants are recommended to prevent fibers that do get caught in clothing from rubbing directly on the skin.

Barrier skin creams might be used to supplement but not replace PPE. Their effectiveness in protecting against exposures should be evaluated before they are used. However, these creams may contaminate work processes. All barrier creams will wear off during the day, so it is important to be cautious in the use of barrier creams.

2. Education and Training

It is important that information about dermatitis and its prevention is given to workers who are exposed to dermatologically active materials. This information should be part of the workplace safety and health-training portion of the company's overall Accident Prevention Program. Training should include the following:

  • general dermatitis information
  • recognition of skin disease symptoms
  • how and where to report cases of skin disease
  • engineering controls used and how to ensure that they are operating properly
  • use of appropriate PPE proper glove choice and use
  • what to do if exposed to a toxic chemical
  • housekeeping standards

3. General Work Environment

General workplace conditions can affect the development of dermatitis. Air temperature should fall within the range of 63°F to 72°F, with humidity at approximately 50%. Housekeeping is also vital to promoting healthy skin. Maintaining a clean workplace by cleaning up spills immediately, vacuuming, etc. can help prevent dermatitis by removing irritants from areas where workers are likely to contact them.

4. Skin Care Program

When dealing with work-related diseases like dermatitis, preventing the problem before it starts is crucial. Educating workers regarding hand-washing routines, proper use of household cleansers at home, and general hygiene precautions are essential elements of a skin care program. Workers should be instructed to wash their hands before eating, smoking, using the lavatory, and at the end of their shift, before leaving work. Providing gentle cleansers, and moisturizing creams in addition to PPE may be beneficial. Instituting a comprehensive skin care program for workers can enhance these prevention tactics. It is important that both new and current workers understand the dermatologic hazards they face and how best to protect themselves from those hazards. Training at the time of hire, as well as annual refresher courses would be a reasonable starting point.

By incorporating symptoms of dermatitis into health and safety training, workers and managers will be better able to recognize potential skin problems. It is also beneficial to ensure that the attending physician or occupational health specialist is aware of the types of exposures specific to the composite industry and the potential for dermatitis. If you notice any signs of dermatitis, medical treatment should be sought immediately. It is important to treat it medically as soon as possible to prevent progression to a more serious condition. It may be helpful to the physician to have a prepared list of specific materials handled by the affected worker.

I would like to give credit to Washington State Industrial Commission (WISHA) for the information in this article. For more information on this subject; please write to me at the magazine. I am eager to answer your many potential questions.

For more information, click on the author biography at the top of the page.

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