Work-related skin problems can occur in most workplaces although there are certain high-risk jobs such as catering, hair dressing, motor vehicle repair and construction where they are more likely.
Skin problems are not only costly to the individuals through the suffering they cause, but also the employer can experience a burden through absence, recruitment, training and personal claims.
Dermatitis is the most common skin condition, but also skin cancer and Urticaria can be caused or made worse through exposure or contact with substances such as chemicals or even having wet hands for long durations at work.
Work-related skin problems are common. However, there are simple and effective steps that employers and employees can take to prevent them from occurring at work. The Health and Safety Executive (HSE) recommends using the Avoid, Protect and Check approach.
AVOID direct contact between unprotected hands and substances, products and wet work where this is sensible and practical, for instance:
- Get rid of the substance / product / wet work altogether.
- Substitute the product / substance for something less harmful.
- Introduce controls (such as tools or equipment) to keep a safe working distance between skin and substances / products / wet work.
PROTECT the skin. Avoiding contact will not always be possible so:
- Provide suitable personal protective equipment (PPE) such as gloves.
- Provide mild skin cleaning cream and washing facilities with hot and cold water.
- Tell workers to wash their hands before eating and drinking, and before wearing gloves.
- Remind workers to wash any contamination from their skin promptly.
- Provide soft cotton or disposable paper towels for drying the skin. Tell workers about the importance of thorough drying after washing.
- Protect the skin by moisturising as often as possible and particularly at the end of the day – this replaces the natural oils that help keep the skin’s protective barrier working properly.
- Use suitable pre-work creams.
CHECK hands regularly for the first signs of itchy, dry or red skin:
- Regular skin checks will help spot the early signs of dermatitis or other skin problems.
- The earlier that health effects are recognised and treated, the more likely it is that the sufferer will make a full recovery.
- Checks can show whether an adequate standard of control is being maintained. They may give an early indication of lapses in control and a need to reassess the controls used.
Employers should check regularly that all these actions are carried out in practice and individuals who suspect they may have a skin problem should visit their GP for advice and treatment if needed.
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