Latex allergy among healthcare workers: A study of RI comp claims*

Irwin B. Horwitz, John D. Kammeyer-Mueller and Richard J. Butler

Using data for workers' compensation claims filed in Rhode Island from 1992 to 1997, the authors studied the prevalence and severity of allergic reactions experienced by healthcare workers from the use of latex gloves. Results suggest that the reactions reported by these workers were generally minor in severity and not widespread. The average number of claims attributable to latex gloves was 0.941 per 10,000 healthcare workers, amounting to 0.19 percent of all workers' compensation claims for all healthcare workers during this period. Compared to other sources of occupational injury in the healthcare industry, latex glove use affected relatively few employees. It was the same as the number from use of soap and fewer than the number from use of other common items such as pots and pans, hand trucks and furniture.

For the entire period of 1992 to 1997, the total cost (medical and indemnity) for all latex allergy claims was $38,192 with a mean cost of $2,387, a median cost of $39 and an overall average cost of slightly over $0.13 per each Rhode Island healthcare worker.

The study also found no cases of asthma or respiratory disorder attributable to a latex allergic reaction, which undermines the hypothesis that the powder used in some latex gloves might act as an airborne transmitter of allergens and induce reactivity among latex-allergic individuals.

Even though the study was limited to latex reaction incidents that resulted in workers' compensation claims, the reported incidents were inexpensive and of short duration, and the authors surmise that unreported incidents were likely not serious. Results suggest that latex gloves do not represent a greater source of occupational injury among healthcare employees than other items in their workplaces.

*Article published in The Journal of Workers Compensation, Vol. 10, No. 1, Fall 2000.