Chemical Skin Hazard Strategy Revised by NIOSH to Provide More Useful, Detailed Notations


NIOSH Update:

Contact: Fred Blosser (202) 245-0645
July 17, 2009

The National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health (NIOSH) announced a new strategy it will use to help employers, workers, and others to better identify the occupational hazards posed through skin contact with chemicals in the workplace, and to take effective precautions.

The strategy is described in a new publication, “NIOSH Current Intelligence Bulletin 61: A Strategy for Assigning New NIOSH Skin Notations.” It revises and updates the framework used by NIOSH for developing notations in the “NIOSH Pocket Guide to Chemical Hazards” to identify occupational skin hazards posed by workplace chemicals. Work-related skin diseases account for an estimated 15 percent to 20 percent of all reported occupational diseases in the U.S., with total annual costs of up to $1 billion. The Pocket Guide is widely used by safety and health professionals, businesses, and workers to identify and safeguard against potential occupational hazards from workplace chemicals.

“In preventing an adverse exposure, it is critical to be aware at the outset that the hazard exists, and to know its exact nature,” said NIOSH Acting Director Christine M. Branche, Ph.D. “’The NIOSH Pocket Guide’ is one of our fundamental ready-access resources. We are pleased to advance and improve the means by which it can be used for identifying skin hazards at a work site and designing appropriate protections for workers.”

Under the new strategy, NIOSH will develop notations for the Pocket Guide to identify whether skin contact with a given chemical can result in direct effects such as skin irritation or skin corrosion, immune-mediated effects such as allergic contact dermatitis or asthma, systemic effects (toxic effects to the body’s biological systems, resulting from the absorption of the chemical through the skin), and/or fatal effects from extreme toxicity. For example, a chemical for which skin contact would result in the direct effect of irritation would have the notation “SK: DIR (IRR).” Also, when numerous hazards are associated with skin contact, notations would be assigned accordingly; for example, a chemical associated with systemic toxicity and corrosion through skin contact would be identified with the notation “SK: SYS-DIR (COR).”

Notations will also be used to identify chemicals that do not cause any effects associated with skin contact; chemicals for which insufficient data exist as to whether skin contact is associated with a hazard; and chemicals that have not yet been evaluated under the new framework, and whose potential for risk through skin contact is unknown will be identified with the notation.

Currently, skin notations in the Pocket Guide simply say “skin,” and are meant only to indicate that the chemical can be harmful to the body’s biological systems as a result of absorption through the skin. The current notations are not intended to identify other adverse effects. The new strategy will help avoid unintended misuse of skin notations, will help users more quickly identify the specific nature of the hazard or hazards associated with skin contact with a given chemical, will promote greater standardization in developing skin notations, will reflect contemporary scientific knowledge, and will make the process of developing the notations more transparent.

NIOSH will assign skin notations based on a critical assessment of a chemical’s physical and chemical properties, reports of human exposures and health effects, empirical data from laboratory testing, and data from computer algorithms and mathematical models. The bulletin describes these decision-making processes in detail. The bulletin, DHHS (NIOSH) Publication No. 2009-147, is available on line at

Page last reviewed: August 6, 2012