This study was performed as part of PROMETES (Swiss Prospective Metal Worker Eczema Study) to examine the role of atopy as a possible risk factor for the development of hand eczema in trainee metal workers. In a cohort of 201 young men without any skin problems at the start of their apprenticeship, 9.5% developed signs of dermatitis on their hands within a period of 6 months. The 2.5-year incidence was 23%. We did not find a significantly increased risk for hand eczema in those participants with an atopic skin diathesis according to the atopy score of Diepgen et al. (Dermatosen 1991; 39: 79-83) Analysis of individual atopic signs and symptoms showed reported metal reactivity to have a significant influence on the onset of early skin damage within 6 months, whereas a history of flexural eczema appeared to be significantly related to the overall incidence over 2.5 years.