Dermatitis In The Workplace

15th January 2020

Every year there are an estimated 7,000 self-reported skin problems that were caused as a result of, or made worse by work, according to the Labour Force Survey (LFS). As it currently stands, there at 17,000 people who are affected by skin problems that have come as a result of their occupation.

Eczema, or dermatitis, is one of the most prevalent skin diseases affecting people in work. Characterised by itchy, scaly, flaky, dry and/or red skin, working with dermatitis can be extremely painful and debilitating. It’s important for both employees and employers to be aware of the early signs of work-related dermatitis, as gaining treatment early on can help to prevent symptoms from becoming more severe. Continue reading this post to learn more about occupational dermatitis, and how to control it within the workplace.

What is Contact Dermatitis?

Contact dermatitis is the skin’s allergic reaction to contact with a particular substance or chemical. Reportedly, 9% of the general population currently suffer from contact dermatitis, however, in industries where there is regular exposure to these causative substances, cases of contact dermatitis is much higher. Work-related dermatitis is caused by direct exposure to a substance within the workplace, whether this is latex, chemicals or even frequent handwashing. There are two types of contact dermatitis; irritant and allergic, and it is important to be aware of both.

Irritant Contact Dermatitis

Irritant contact dermatitis is more common and occurs when the skin is injured by friction, exposure to cold or water, or to harmful chemicals. In this case, the skin is being damaged faster than it can repair itself, which is what results in sore, inflamed and flaky skin. Some of the most common causes of contact dermatitis include:

  • Acids and alkalis
  • Adhesives
  • Detergents
  • Friction; and
  • Water

Allergic Contact Dermatitis

Less common out of the two types, allergic contact dermatitis presents similar symptoms to irritant contact dermatitis, but these symptoms occur much faster. This type of dermatitis is caused by the skin’s allergic reaction to a particular substance. Some of the most common allergens within the workplace are:

  • Cosmetics
  • Glue
  • Metals; and
  • Rubber

High-Risk Industries for Occupational Dermatitis

There are some industries in which the risk of suffering from occupational dermatitis is higher:

  • Catering
  • Construction
  • Dentistry
  • Hairdressing
  • Health services
  • Metal machining
  • Motor vehicle repair; and
  • Printing

Managing Work-Related Dermatitis

Skin surveillance is a service that employers must look at by law. The law states that employers must control exposure to hazardous substances and materials that cause ill health as far as is reasonably possible. As part of this, employers must identify in which job roles employees are at risk of suffering from dermatitis. From there, a risk assessment must be carried out, and suitable control measures put in place to reduce the risk.

dermatitis infographic workplace

Some practical steps that an employee may be encouraged to follow include:

  • Substituting the hazardous material with a safer one
  • Using suitable equipment for the job, rather than hands
  • Using protective clothing/gloves
  • Washing contaminated skin quickly and thoroughly with soap or an emollient
  • Using proper hand drying techniques after washing
  • Using the supplied skin conditioning creams before and after work

If you are interested in finding out more about skin surveillance and how an occupational health team can support in this, get in touch today.

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