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Warning - A Spike In Rashes and Product Sensitisation

By Jack Josephsen

Sensitisation to resin flooring products can be crippling for an epoxy flooring business – and it seems there’s a greater risk now than ever before.

In the past couple of weeks, I’ve had several conversations with contractors that are either struggling with epoxy sensitisation themselves, or the toll it’s having on their team. In one particular case, a small itch on the wrist turned into a painful, full-arm rash in only a matter of months. It didn’t sound pleasant at all!

While this type of thing has always been a part of our industry, it’s the speed and severity of these recent examples that scares me most. What once built up slowly over years is now striking much sooner and posing a big threat to the careers of many workers.

Why is this happening? What can we do to stop it? These are questions we need answers to quickly, so I thought I’d get the conversation going with some thoughts below.

A hand with a large, red rash covering most of the skin.

A need for speed (and low price)

When I thought about what’s changed in resin flooring over the last decade, two things stand out: speed and price. We are in a market that now values a quick return to service and a (very) low price above everything else.

While this doesn’t apply to all curing agents or catalysts, in most cases a faster product simply means more reactive and aggressive chemicals are being used. If the price is low as well, this often means the chemicals haven’t been modified or controlled in any way. The outcome is a quick cure and low price per litre, but a nasty beast as far as your health and safety is concerned.

Eliminate the risks

Although some chemicals are clearly worse than others, the fact is sensitisation can strike anyone and at any time. I learnt this lesson back in 2000 when I became sensitised and only needed to be in the same room as an open a can of MDI to get an itchy throat and knuckles. From that day on I looked to formulate safer products and the first product line we released soon after was a range of non-corrosive epoxy coatings.

If you’re starting to see signs of sensitisation, I urge you to consider taking action like I did. Classic risk management theory says elimination is the best option, followed by isolation, substitution and mechanical protection. If you can’t quite see how to take any of those steps, your last line of defence as a contractor is to simply sharpen your hygiene and epoxy PPE practices. For example, always use cotton gloves underneath disposable powder-free gloves; barrier creams and disposable sleeves if you keep getting resin on your arms; knee pads if you keep getting resin on your pants. If you do get some on your skin, clean it off immediately with warm, soapy water – NOT solvent.

The responsibility is on YOUR shoulders

For the business owners reading this, the concern around sensitisation runs even deeper. It seems that more and more responsibility is being placed on your shoulders in OH&S matters these days, and the view is if you introduce the risk, then you also carry the liability. One thing is for sure, doing nothing could at the very least result in the loss of a trained worker - someone who may never fully recover and struggle with scars and flare ups for the rest of their life.

If you’re using a fast and/or cheap resin, you’ve got to do your homework and understand the hazards you’re dealing with.

Do not delay. Do your research now. Ask your supplier for their views on sensitisation and safer options if they have them. Think about your work practices and whether any changes need to be made.

I’d love to hear what contractors think about this very important health issue. Have you suffered from sensitisation? Do you still suffer with it? What do you think caused it, and, how have you tried to manage it? Sharing your own experiences could help someone else with their battle!

How you can take action...

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