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Safety & Health Assessment & Research for Prevention (SHARP) — Research for Safe Work

Public health importance of occupational dermatitis

The skin plays and important role as a barrier to workplace chemicals and other contaminants. Occupational skin disorders, mostly in the form of irritant and allergic dermatitis, are one of the most common types of occupational disease. In 1997, occupational skin disorders constituted 13.5% of all occupational illnesses reported to the Bureau of Labor Statistics. The annual estimated costs of occupational skin disorders nationally may reach $1 billion.

From 1990 through 2000, 11,084 skin disorder state fund claims were accepted by the Washington State workers' compensation system. Fifteen percent of the claims involved four or more lost workdays, and the cumulative cost of all skin disorder claims to the Washington workers' compensation state fund system was $7.5 million. Industries with the highest claims incidence rate are Agriculture, Forestry and Fishing and Manufacturing.

Work-related dermatitis is preventable. Engineering controls, personal protective equipment, and employer/employee education are all potential strategies that can be used to prevent this serious illness.

In 2000, Washington State discontinued a SENSOR project for dermatitis. Many publications and prevention materials originated from this program.

Purpose and operation


The purpose of this system is the identification of patterns and trends that can be used to reduce, through prevention, the  risks associated with  occupational dermatitis. work-related burns that result in hospitalization or death.


  • Describe the incidence and prevalence of work-related dermatitis.
  • Identify high risk occupations and industries.
  • Identify useful prevention strategies.
  • Generate hypotheses about causative agents and factors.

Planned uses

  • Identifying outbreaks of work-related dermatitis.
  • Analyzing risks by occupation and industry.
  • Tracking trends in incidence and prevalence.
  • Sharing information with health care providers, public health professionals, and labor and industry stakeholders.
  • Measuring progress in achieving Healthy People 2010 Objectives 20-8 regarding reducing occupational skin diseases or disorders among full-time workers.

Case definition

A case is any worker who receives benefits for a claim with an ANSI Z16.2 nature of injury code 180 - unspecified dermatitis, 181 - infection of the skin or subcutaneous tissue, 182 - dermatitis, 183 - other inflammatory condition of the skin, 184 - disease of the sebaceous gland, or 189 - other diseases and disorders of the skin and subcutaneous tissues.

Legal authority

No additional legal authority was needed to create and operate this surveillance system.

Organizational location

The surveillance system is located within the Safety and Health Assessment and Research for Prevention (SHARP) Program of the Washington State Department of Labor & Industries.

System components

Population under surveillance

Workers employed within the state of Washington.

Time period of data collection

October 1, 2000 to present. 

Collection and reporting sources

Workers' compensation claims data are available on a continuing basis from the Labor & Industries Industrial Insurance System.

Data management

Case information is extracted from the claims management system. 

Data analysis and dissemination

The current system evolved from the SENSOR Program, which ended September 30, 2000. An educational report was published in July 2001 to assist employers and employees in the health care setting in preventing hand dermatitis. This report and others dealing with occupational dermatitis can be found on SHARP's publications list.

Patient privacy, data confidentiality, and system security

All data collected are used solely for surveillance and prevention purposes. All hard copies of case reports are stored in locked filing cabinets. The Access database is password protected. Passwords to the database are issued only to authorized SHARP personnel. Additionally, the physical access to the building and the access to individual computers are controlled as part of the Department of Labor & Industries security systems.

Dermatitis resources developed by the SHARP program

Work-related dermatitis reports are available from SHARP's Publications page.

For more information, see the Skin Disorders (Dermatitis) Web site devoted to work-related skin disorders.

Links to other occupational dermatitis information

External hyperlinks are provided as a public service by the SHARP Program. Neither L&I nor SHARP are responsible for the reliability or accuracy of the information found on other Web sites (Privacy and Security Policy).

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