Machinists and machine maintenance men working in the metal industry use metal-working fluids capable of causing irritant and allergic contact dermatitis. The objectives of this study were to find out the frequency of skin symptoms in machinists and machine maintenance men (metal workers) and to compare the risk of their skin symptoms to that in office workers (controls). A total of 726 male metal workers and 84 controls answered a structured telephone questionnaire enquiring about work, atopy, skin symptoms, their impact on life, etc. The risk of skin symptoms compared with that in the controls was estimated using a logistic regression analysis. Of the metal workers, 20% reported recurring or prolonged dermatitis on their hands or forearms during the past 12 months. The hand or forearm dermatitis (HD) affected mostly the metal workers' mood and their activities at work. Recurring dermatitis elsewhere (DE) than in the hands and in connection with work was reported by 10%. The risk of HD was about twofold and the risk of DE was about fourfold compared with that in the controls. The HD of machinists may be severe and affect their ability to work. DE may have clinical significance in machinists.