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Ohio State University Extension


Chemical Skin Irritants for Trainers and Supervisors

Tailgate Safety Training for Landscaping and Horticultural Services
Agriculture and Natural Resources
Agricultural Safety and Health Program

Objective: Prevent and treat hazards from chemical skin irritants.

Trainer’s Note

Skin is a valuable body tissue; it must be protected from chemical irritants. For this module:

  • Review the information below on chemical irritants and their effects.
  • Ask workers to identify chemical irritants in their workplace.
  • Review the Personal Protection Equipment (PPE) workers should use.
  • Review the important points.
  • Have workers take the True/False quiz to check their learning.


Different chemicals can irritate the skin. Some chemicals remove fats and oils from the skin. When this occurs, the skin becomes cracked and dry. Irritants can also cause severe burns. Or irritants can cause oils and waxes to plug hair follicles and sweat ducts. That can cause dermatitis and acne.

Types of irritants are shown below. The table also lists examples and effects.


With dermatitis, the skin is inflamed and irritated. There are two types:

  • Primary irritation. Occurs from contact with a chemical irritant.
  • Sensitization. Skin becomes more sensitive after exposure. Then, just a small amount can cause a severe allergic reaction.
Types and Effects of Chemical Irritants
Chemical Irritant Examples Found In Effects
Strong acids Hydrochloric acid Fertilizers
Paint pigments
Severe burns
Brief or prolonged effects
Sulfuric acid Battery acid
Phosphate fertilizers
Nitric Acid Fertilizers
Metal working
Strong caustics Sodium hydroxide Soaps, detergents
Cleaning products
Paint remover
Potassium hydroxide Disinfectants
Sterilizing agents
Strong solvents Dichloromethane
Paint remover
Prolonged dermatitis
Prolonged acne

Chemical Irritant Safety Practices

  • Identify hazards before working with chemicals.
  • Read the Safety Data Sheet (SDS) and labels on the containers.
  • Identify emergency procedures in case an accident occurs.
  • Avoid contact with strong chemical irritants.
  • Use PPE:
    • goggles
    • gloves
    • sleeves
    • aprons
    • shields
    • footwear
  • In case of exposure
    • use showers, eyewash fountains, hand/face spray units, and other emergency equipment
    • call 911 if appropriate
    • report accidental exposures to hazardous substance

Review These Important Points

  • Be aware of all types of skin irritants.
  • Know what substances you use that may be dangerous.
  • Follow the correct procedures in an emergency.
  • Wear protective equipment when on the job.
  • Use emergency equipment and call 911 if appropriate.

About These Modules
The author team for the training modules in the landscape and horticultural tailgate training series includes Dee Jepsen, Program Director, Agricultural Safety and Health, Ohio State University Extension; Michael Wonacott, Research Specialist, Vocational Education; Peter Ling, Greenhouse Specialist; and Thomas Bean, Agricultural Safety Specialist. Modules were developed with funding from the Occupational Safety and Health Administration, U.S. Department of Labor, Grant Number 46E3-HT09.

Any opinions, findings, conclusions, or recommendations expressed in this publication are those of the author(s) and do not necessarily reflect the views of the U.S. Department of Agriculture or the U.S. Department of Labor.

Answer Key

1. T

2. T

3. F

4. T

5. T


Quiz: Chemical Skin Irritants



True or False?

1. Caustics can remove fats and oils from the skin.     T     F

2. Skin is a valuable body tissue.     T     F

3. It is not necessary to avoid direct contact with primary irritants.     T     F

4. Strong acids can cause severe burns.     T     F

5. An allergic reaction can be the result of exposure to solvents.     T     F

Originally posted May 25, 2018.