To investigate the incidences and trends of occupational skin diseases (OSDs) and allergic respiratory diseases (ARDs) in machinists working in the fabrication of metal products.
Data from the Finnish Register of Occupational Diseases during 1992-2001 were analysed. Incidence rates for skin and respiratory diseases of machinists were calculated and compared to the total working population. The patients investigated at the Finnish Institute of Occupational Health in the same period were described in detail.
A total of 279 dermatoses and 34 ARDs were reported. Skin diseases accounted for 27% of all occupational diseases. The incidences of the skin and respiratory diseases were 1.6 and 0.2 cases per 1000 person-years, respectively. This represents a 3-fold risk for getting an OSD compared to the total working population. The number of allergic contact dermatitis (ACD) increased 3-fold during the study period. The most common causes of ACD were metalworking fluids (MWFs) and their ingredients such as formaldehyde, ethanolamines and colophony. Eighty-five per cent of ARDs were asthmas. The commonest causes of asthma were metal dusts and fumes, epoxy resins and hardeners and MWFs and their components.
Contact dermatitis is a common occupational health problem in metalworking machinists, whereas occupational respiratory disease is rare. Only a few specific chemicals in the metalworking have thus far been identified as respiratory allergens. Specific skin tests and inhalation challenge tests with MWFs and their ingredients are recommended if an OSD or a respiratory disease is suspected.