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NIOSH Investigates Dermatitis among Employees of Rifle Barrel Manufacturer
NIOSH staff recently responded to a manager’s concerns about skin irritation and rashes among employees who were exposed to metalworking fluids (MWFs) at a rifle barrel manufacturing company. Some production employees also reported work-related asthma-like symptoms. The facility mainly used two types of MWFs: a mineral oil-based MWF they refer to as “oil” and a semisynthetic water-based MWF they refer to as “coolant.”
NIOSH staff visited the facility twice to observe work practices and personal protective equipment use; review illness and injury logs, workers’ compensation claims, and air sampling reports; interview employees; and examine employees’ rashes. They also took personal air samples for MWF mist and endotoxin. The agency found that many employees had skin exposure to MWFs, including oils and coolant, and to rust inhibitor, with the highest MWF mist levels occurring in the milling and chambering departments.
Prior to the NIOSH evaluation, the plant had reduced production levels and made other changes that reduced the risk of dermatitis from oil-based MWFs, including switching to a different oil and improving exposure controls, training, work practices, and hygiene. However, agency staff found a “significant association” between skin exposure to coolant and work-related dermatitis at the facility, with co-exposure to the corrosion inhibitor as a potential “important contributing factor.”
“Employees with work-related respiratory symptoms were exposed to airborne MWF levels that have been known to cause or exacerbate respiratory symptoms, although the exposures are at or below NIOSH-recommended limits,” NIOSH’s report concludes. “Actions are needed to protect employees from developing or exacerbating dermal and respiratory problems related to MWF and other chemical exposures in the plant.”
NIOSH’s report is available as a PDF.

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