Workers contracting dermatitis is becoming an increasing issue for businesses. Hundreds of occupational dermatitis cases are recorded every year. It can effect any worker at any age so all workers could potentially be at risk.
Dermatitis at work causes the skin to become red, itchy and scaly, it can even lead to skin lesions, scales and lichenification. There are many professions that can lead to work related dermatitis claims, the most common being in jobs involving food processing and especially catering. These account for about 10% of all reported cases.
Dermatitis is a type of eczema that can affect the whole body but in work place dermatitis, 75% of cases effect the hands. This is due to the handling of substances during the working day without adequate training or protection.
Extended periods of contact with water, soaps and detergents causes over 50% of workplace dermatitis cases. This means that hundreds are reported to dermatologists and doctors every year. Many will not be reported at all.
Most occupational dermatitis reported in the food industry are caused by food its self. Numerous foods can cause dermatitis such as fruits, vegetables, sugar, flour or dough, meats, fish and spices. These can cause instant reactions or aggravate already present skin conditions.
Additional to the most common causes in the workplace there are various substances and items that can induce dermatitis such as solvents, coins, cutting agents, rubber/latex, alcohol based substances, chemicals and cleaners.
Contact dermatitis is the form of the condition that is most likely to occur in the workplace.. There are two main variations;
- Allergic contact dermatitis is caused by an allergic reaction to a substance, with people's susceptibility vastly varying as can their reaction. The substance causes an immune response when in contact with the skin.
- Irritant contact dermatitis is usually a result of a substance damaging the skin by drying it out. Over three quarters of all contact dermatitis cases are caused by irritation from a substance as allergic reactions are usually limited to selected susceptible people. A liquid or material that irritates one person is more than likely going to react with everyone who comes into contact with it.
Other forms of dermatitis include atopic, serborrheic, perioral and stasis dermatitis. These are not likely to be caused by work but there is the danger that the working environment can aggravate and bring along an already existing condition.
The best way to prevent dermatitis is to avoid contact with allergens and irritants all together. Prevention is far easier than curing a condition. It is also far cheaper when considering dermatitis compensation claims on top of additional preventative measures.
Areas to look at to prevent workers developing dermatitis
- Establish if workers come into contact with any potential cause of dermatitis.
- Monitor any reported cases of skin issues. If one worker has symptoms, more may develop them in the future.
- Listen to any workers concerns or complaints
- Check if anyone has any current conditions that may make them more vulnerable. Burns and sunburn can also increase the possibility of dermatitis as the skin is extra sensitive.
If there are reported cases you should;
- Discover the cause and record how many have been affected
- Investigate whether the cause can be withdrawn from use and replaced
- If it can't be removed, can a preventative measure be put in place to eliminate contact?
- Limit the amount of time the dangerous substance is used for. Possibly by rotating staff
- Introduce skin care products for workers to use to preserve the condition of their skin
- Monitor the changes to see if the implementation has made any difference.
Do you need to provide protection to reduce any possible contact with substances that may cause a reaction?
As the hands are the most commonly affected area, gloves can be efficient to prevent any possible contact. The type of gloves has to be carefully selected as some won't protect against certain chemicals and people can be allergic to rubber and or latex. Another issue can be the fit as sweating in the gloves can increase the symptoms. Gloves won't be adequate in all situations as the danger of contact may be to the whole arm or body. Other protection must then be used to prevent contact and dermatitis developing. This could be more protective clothing or machinery to avert human handling of the substance.
If someone comes in contact with a allergen or irritant substance, wash the affected skin with water or with a soap substitute and as a last resort a mild soap. This should be done as quickly after the skin comes in contact with the substance as possible. The aim is to prevent any incidents like this but the reaction to them is as important if they are to happen.
Protecting your staff is a legal requirement but also has many benefits from productivity to moral. Hazards at work can be avoided with careful planning. A safe workplace is a happy workplace.