Participating core and specialty programs: Center for Maritime Safety and Health Studies, Personal Protective Technology

Employers, policy-makers, trade associations, and manufacturers use NIOSH information to prevent immune and dermal diseases among manufacturing workers.

Health Outcome Research Focus Worker Population Research Type
A Dermatitis Exposures to manufacturing chemicals (e.g., metals, isocyanates, formaldehyde, metalworking fluids) Manufacturing workers with exposures (e.g., automotive, furniture, plastics, painting, printing, metalworking) Basic/etiologic
B Work-related asthma Mechanistic studies of exposures leading to allergic sensitization Manufacturing workers with exposures (e.g., automotive, furniture, plastics, painting, printing, metalworking) Basic/etiologic
C Hypersensitivity pneumonitis (HP) Mechanistic laboratory-based studies of exposures to organic and inorganic substances Manufacturing workers with exposures (e.g., automotive, furniture, plastics, painting, printing, metalworking) Basic/etiologic
D Immune suppressive disorders Identification of substances and the mechanism by which they cause immune suppression Manufacturing workers with exposures (e.g., automotive, furniture, plastics, painting, printing, metalworking) Basic/etiologic

Activity Goal 3.8.1 (Basic/etiologic research): Conduct basic/etiologic research to better characterize exposures related to immune and dermal disorders among manufacturing workers with an emphasis on studies to better understand basic immunological mechanisms.


Approximately 82,000 chemicals are currently used in industry with an estimated 700 new chemicals being introduced annually resulting in a high potential for occupational exposure [GAO 2005]. Occupational exposures to chemicals can result in numerous diseases which can adversely affect an individual’s health and capacity to perform at work.  The associated direct and indirect costs have been estimated to exceed $1 billion annually in the United States alone [Cashman et al. 2012, Mancini et al. 2008]. The two most common routes of occupational exposure to chemicals is through the skin and lungs.  Hundreds of chemicals present in virtually every industry (metals, epoxy and acrylic resins, rubber additives, chemical intermediates) have been identified to cause immune mediated disorders such as contact dermatitis and asthma or other systemic effects [Anderson and Meade 2014]. The manufacturing sector includes a number of professions such as printing, petroleum and coal products manufacturing, chemical manufacturing, automotive manufacturing, plastic and rubber products manufacturing, metal manufacturing and furniture manufacturing in which a high potential for exposure to toxic chemicals exists. Contact dermatitis is the second most commonly reported occupational illness accounting for 10% to 15% of all occupational diseases and the Manufacturing sector has the highest number of cases (26,000) and the second highest reported incidence (139 per 100,000) of occupational skin diseases among major industries [Lushniak 2003]. Additionally, there are over 80 chemicals used in the manufacturing sector including amines, acrylates, acid anhydrides, and isocyanates that are associated with occupational asthma. Isocyanates (chemicals used in many products, including polyurethane foams and automotive paint) are considered to be some of the most common occupational asthmogens.



Chemicals are used very commonly in workplaces for purposes such as cleaning and in manufacturing and production processes.  At the same time, there is a responsibility to provide a safe and healthy environment for workers. While immunological mechanisms are thought to underlie certain occupational disorders due to chemical exposures, research in this area is still lacking.  Overall, there is a need to better understand the adverse impact of chemicals on occupational immune health.

To minimize the hazards of dermal and respiratory occupational exposures and immune diseases, research is needed to understand the mechanisms driving the diseases in the context of exposure. Exposure monitoring is important to identify and quantify workplace occupational chemical exposures as well as help guide the development of control interventions. Further, these data can help to determine the chemical source and route(s) of exposure, the effectiveness of engineering controls, how to improve work practices, selection of appropriate personal protective equipment, and provide risk assessment guidance to risk managers. Workers should be aware not only of the hazards associated with the chemicals in their work environment but also the best ways to protect themselves from exposure and disease. Research involving matching the personal protective technology/equipment (PPE) appropriate to the hazard is needed in the manufacturing sector. Different glove materials differ in their ability to prevent dermal hazards and research is needed in this area regarding the protective factors of gloves and their ability to protect manufacturing workers from dermal exposures.

Anderson SE, Meade BJ [2014]. Potential health effects associated with dermal exposure to occupational chemicals. Environ Health Insights 8(Suppl 1):51-62

Cashman MW, Reutemann PA, Ehrlich A [2012]. Contact dermatitis in the United States: epidemiology, economic impact, and workplace prevention. Dermatol Clin 30(1):87-98, viii.

GAO [2005]. Report to Congressional Requesters:  CHEMICAL REGULATION Options Exist to Improve EPA’s Ability to Assess Health Risks and Manage Its Chemical Review Program. Washington, DC: U.S. Government Accountability Office, GAO-05-458,

Page last reviewed: February 1, 2019