Introduction Many studies have shown that nickel and its alloys can be potential irritants and sensitizers among workers engaged in ferronickel alloy production, and provoke occupational contact dermatitis.
Objective To assess the prevalence of contact dermatitis focusing on allergic contact dermatitis in workers exposed to nickel while producing ferronickel alloys.
Methods A cross-sectional study included 103 male workers (mean age=49.1±10.1) employed as ferronickel smelters (duration of exposure 18.2±11.9) with direct contact to nickel. Their findings were compared with a control group of 37 male office workers (mean age=46.7±10.6), employed in the same facility, without direct nickel contact, matched for age, smoking habits and socioeconomic status. Evaluation of examined subjects included Nordic Questionnaire on Occupational Skin Diseases (NOSQ-2002/long), physical examination of the skin changes on hands, wrists and forearms, and patch test with NiS04 (5%).
Results and discussion Skin rush during six months was registered in 21 (20,4%) exposed worker, and in 4 (10,8%) controls. The prevalence of skin changes, chronic rhinitis, conjunctivitis, and asthma was higher in exposed workers, but without statistical significance. Hand skin efflorescence due to non-occupational substances were present in 10 (9,8%) of exposed workers, and among 2 (5,5%) of controls. There was no significant difference concerning urticaria between two groups, and non-occupational nickel sensitisation (metal buttons, jewellery, etc.). Positive patch test by 5% NiSO4 was registered in 20 (19.5%) exposed workers and in 2 (5.4%) controls (p<0.05). Significant difference was found between the two groups concerning improvement of skin lesions after temporary elimination of workplace exposure. Positive elimination test was registered among 5 (4.9%) exposed workers with hand contact dermatitis.
Conclusion Our data confirmed that workplace nickel exposure can cause occupational allergic contact dermatitis among workers producing ferronickel alloys, and determined the need of preventive activities in order to decrease the pathogenic dermal effect of nickel.
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