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Latex allergies can cause serious health problems. Latex can be found in natural rubber products, such as gloves and many medical products. A simple way to avoid an allergic reaction is to ask for and use latex-free products.

How workers are exposed

Anyone who wears rubber gloves on the job is at risk for exposure to latex. The gloves have a fine layer of latex dust on them. If a worker snaps the gloves when taking them off, this dust can become airborne and affect anyone in the room.

Workers in the health care industry are most at risk for exposure to latex. It is found in gloves, tourniquets, dental dams, and other medical equipment. Workers in other jobs who commonly use latex gloves include:

  • Janitors
  • Housekeepers
  • Hairdressers
  • Food service workers
  • Mechanics
  • Veterinarians
  • Cashiers and bank tellers
  • Special effects makeup artists

The risks

People with latex allergies have varying levels of sensitivity. This means that symptoms can range from minor skin irritations to life threatening conditions. A latex allergy can also develop over time. Workers repeatedly exposed to latex may have a higher risk of developing latex allergies.

Here are the most common reactions to latex exposure:

Skin contact
  • Dermatitis and swelling
  • Hives
  • Skin rash
Eyes, nose, throat contact
  • Swelling eyelids, lips, or face
  • Watery, itchy eyes
  • Runny nose
  • Sneezing, coughing, wheezing
  • Chest tightness, shortness of breath
  • Rapid heart rate
  • Low blood pressure
  • Anaphylactic shock

How to reduce the risks

The best way to reduce the risk of exposure to latex is to eliminate the source of exposure. If that's not possible, there are other risk controls to use. These should be identified in your exposure control plan. When choosing risk controls, start by asking the questions in the following steps. The steps are listed in order of effectiveness.

  1. 1

    Elimination or substitution

    Eliminating the hazard by substituting a safer process or material, where possible, is the most effective control. A question to consider:

    • Can latex-free and/or allergy-free latex products be used?
  2. 2

    Engineering controls

    Making physical modifications to facilities, equipment and processes can reduce exposure. Some questions to consider:

    • Can general ventilation be improved to reduce airborne latex dust?
  3. 3

    Administrative controls

    These involve changing work practices and work policies. Awareness tools and training also count as administrative controls. All can limit the risk of latex exposure. Some questions to consider:

    • Is latex a consideration when purchasing gloves?  
    • Can first aid providers be instructed to ask workers about latex allergies before beginning treatment?
    • Have workers had training and education regarding the symptoms of latex allergies and the hazards and controls associated with working around latex?