NIOSH latex allergy alert counsels employers, HCWs

Latex allergy in the workplace can result in potentially serious health problems for workers, many of whom are often unaware of the risk of latex exposure, warns the National Institute of Occupational Safety and Health.1 A recently issued NIOSH alert states that those health problems can be prevented or minimized by heeding the following recommendations.

Recommendations for Employers

1. Provide workers with nonlatex gloves to use when there is little potential for contact with infectious materials (for example, in food service).

2. Appropriate barrier protection is necessary when handling infectious materials. If latex gloves are chosen, provide reduced-protein, powder-free gloves to protect workers from infectious materials.

3. Ensure that workers use good housekeeping practices to remove latex-containing dust from the workplace:

— Identify areas contaminated with latex dust for frequent cleaning (upholstery, carpets, ventilation ducts, and plenums).

— Make sure workers change ventilation filters and vacuum bags frequently in latex- contaminated areas.

4. Provide workers with education programs and training materials about latex allergy.

5. Periodically screen high-risk workers for latex allergy symptoms. Detecting symptoms early and removing symptomatic workers from latex exposure are essential for preventing long-term health effects.

6. Evaluate current prevention strategies whenever a worker is diagnosed with latex allergy.

Recommendations for Workers

1. Use nonlatex gloves for activities that are not likely to involve contact with infectious materials (food preparation, routine housekeeping, maintenance, etc.).

2. Appropriate barrier protection is necessary when handling infectious materials. If you choose latex gloves, use powder-free gloves with reduced protein content.

3. When wearing latex gloves, do not use oil-based hand creams or lotions unless they have been shown to reduce latex-related problems.

4. Frequently clean work areas contaminated with latex dust (upholstery, carpets, ventilation ducts, and plenums).

5. Frequently change the ventilation filters and vacuum bags used in latex-contaminated areas.

6. Learn to recognize the symptoms of latex allergy: skin rashes; hives; flushing; itching; nasal, eye, or sinus symptoms; asthma; and shock.

7. If you develop symptoms of latex allergy, avoid direct contact with latex gloves and products until you can see a physician experienced in treating latex allergy.

8. If you have latex allergy, consult your physician regarding the following precautions:

— Avoid contact with latex gloves and products.

— Avoid areas where you might inhale powder from latex gloves worn by others.

— Tell your employers, physicians, nurses, and dentists that you have latex allergy.

— Wear a medical alert bracelet.

9. Take advantage of all latex allergy education and training provided by your employer.

Reference

1. National Institute of Occupational Safety and Health. NIOSH Alert: Preventing Allergic Reactions to Natural Rubber Latex in the Workplace. DHHS (NIOSH) Pub. No. 97-135. Washington, DC: NIOSH; 1997.