What is Latex?
Natural Rubber Latex, also known as NRL is a fluid that is harvested from the Hevea Brasilliensis tree that while native to South America, is grown extensively in South Eastern Asia, in particular in Malaysia. The fluid is a mixture of organic compounds produced by cells called caticifers. After it has been processed, the latex becomes a rubber that has excellent mechanical properties such as tear-resistance and resilience. It’s durability and flexibility makes it a perfect material from which to make the protective gloves worn by many workers in the health and social care industries.
Why does it cause allergies?
In the late 1980s the introduction of Universal Precautions mandated that healthcare workers should be protected from the risks of blood-borne pathogens such as Hepatitis B and HIV, and so saw a huge rise in the use of protective gloves; particularly those made from Latex. Unfortunately for some people, the proteins within NRL have the potential to cause asthma and dermatitis alongside more serious allergic reactions such as anaphylaxis. These proteins can cause the allergies either through direct contact with the skin, or through the inhalation of the powder used to make the application and removal of the gloves easier.
Who is most at Risk?
Between 1% and 6% of the general population is thought to be potentially sensitised to NRL, but in most cases it takes frequent or repeated exposure before any issues are identified. People who work in social care and medicine are among those who are at risk of developing issues due to the frequent use of the gloves as protection against infection. Also at risk are those who work in occupations such as hairdressing, car mechanics, those who work in the electronics business – all of whom use the gloves to protect their skin from other potential dangers.
How can it be avoided?
The simplest way to avoid the issues associated with Latex is to use non-latex gloves that are now widely available across the market. While some may offer less protection and flexibility, the balance must be drawn between the protection against injury and the potential side effects of working with an allergen. Employers must be able to demonstrate that they have carried out an assessment to select which gloves should be provided and must be able to demonstrate that they have a suitable glove use policy that takes into account the dangers to those employees who may suffer from a latex allergy.
Have you suffered from Latex-related issues?
If you are allergic to Latex and your employer has failed to assist you by providing suitable protection for your work, you should contact one of our solicitors today to find out how we can help you get the support you deserve.