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Contact Dermatitis in the Workplace

Written by: Lisa Hallsworth

Published on: 15 January 2024

hands with contact dermatitis rash

Your practical guide to solving contact dermatitis at work

Contact dermatitis causes itchy, inflamed skin. It’s a miserable condition – and it accounts for about 80% of all occupational dermatitis, with more than 1,000 compensation claims in Ontario each year.

A client sent us an SOS recently, asking if we could help identify the likely source of allergic contact dermatitis in an employee at a long-term care (LTC) home.

The employee’s health care team had diagnosed the condition as a reaction to hand soap being used at work.

The health care provider instructed the employer to replace the soap with a “hypoallergenic” soap.

‘Hypoallergenic’ is actually a vague marketing word (not a regulated term). It signals products that are judged less likely to cause a reaction (usually without studies to back them up).

LTC homes use a lot of different kinds of soap. Our client wanted to know if there was a way to identify the specific product and ingredient(s) most likely causing the problem.

Happily, this is not only possible, but also fast and easy with SDS RiskAssist software.

First we looked at the list of soaps being used in the client’s LTC homes to see which ones had flags for dermatitis. Four had flags. Four didn't. (See graphic below).

Using the SDS RiskAssist Safer Chemicals tool, we compared all the soaps by the standard WHMIS hazards, as stated in the safety data sheets. We also compared the soaps by a list of known hazards associated with the ingredients stated in the SDSs. 

The results looked like this (note that the names of the soaps and supplier have been removed for privacy):


Image of SDS RiskAssist platform showing soap ingredients linked to contact dermatitis

We confirmed that the soap considered the most obvious culprit did indeed contain ingredients known to cause allergic contact dermatitis.

We then used the SDS RiskAssist Ingredients tool to dig deeper: with the name of the problematic soap in the search bar, we clicked on a pre-built allergic contact dermatitis filter, to see exactly what the problematic ingredients were. 

SDS RiskAssist platform showing ingredients by product with filter for allergic contact dermatitis

It turned out that the problematic ingredients were chloroxylenol and ethanolamine. 

Both of these ingredients were present in the soap in question in small quantities (5%).

Finally, we used our Safer Products tool to provide a list of safer soaps for the employee to try.

Armed with this information, the employee can also avoid using personal care products with these ingredients outside the workplace. 

All this information in less than an hour thanks to SDS RiskAssist!

See how the SDS RiskAssist Safer Products tool works (YouTube video).

Facts about Occupational Contact Dermatitis

What is occupational contact dermatitis?

Occupational contact dermatitis is an inflammation of the skin. It is caused by substances found in the workplace that come into direct contact with the skin.

Contact dermatitis symptoms

Symptoms include itching, burning or stinging sensations with redness, swelling or peeling.

What triggers contact dermatitis?

Soaps, detergents, acids, bases and solvents are among the common triggers in the workplace.

Impact of contact dermatitis in the workplace

In Ontario, Canada, 1,000 compensation claims are reported for contact dermatitis each year. According to US statistics, skin disorders comprise more than 35% of all occupationally related diseases. Irritant contact dermatitis accounts for about 80% of all occupational dermatitis, according to the Canadian Centre for Occupational Health and Safety.

Employees with contact dermatitis may experience loss of function, loss of quality of life and economic losses if they are unable to work.

Employers may be affected by lower productivity, more absenteeism and higher staff turnover.

See our contact dermatitis fact sheet:

Contact Dermatitis Fact Sheet Cover

Need help with a chemical safety issue at work? Please reach out to us! We're here to help.

Also see our:

Free Occupational Exposure Limit (OEL) tool

Guide to SDS Management

Guide to Chemical Safety Compliance

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SDS RiskAssist an Ontario-based company that uses the power of technology to give employers control and understanding over the otherwise pervasive and worrisome use of chemicals. SDS RiskAssist enables workers to know why chemicals are being used, what their benefits and hazards are and how to use them safely! Workers can access this knowledge via mobile or desktop SafetySnaps™, from anywhere in the world. SDS RiskAssist is the winner for 5 years running, of Readers’ Choice Awards by Canadian Occupational Safety Magazine (2018-2022); the 2019 Innovation Guelph Startup of the Year Award; the 2019 Quinte Business Achievement Award (Trailblazer category) and The Ottawa Network’s 2020 Bootstrap Award (SaaS category). We support the United Nations Sustainable Development Goals, working with our clients to take action for a sustainable planet.