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The Invisible Threat Lurking Under Gloves

February 20, 2018



Many professions require personal protective equipment (PPE), like gloves, to be worn in order to prevent workers from coming in contact with hazardous chemicals, extreme temperatures and harmful germs. However, workers often remove protective gloves at the end of the day only to find their skin wasn’t protected from one of the biggest workplace threats: occupational skin disorders (OSDs).


OSDs affect more than 13 million workers in the U.S., according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC)[1]. Including contract dermatitis or work-related eczema (WRE), OSDs are an invisible threat to health, safety and efficiency in the workplace. From dry, red and irritated skin to deep cuts vulnerable to infection, workers with unhealthy hands can harm a business in numerous ways.

Gloves are not the only method to protect hardworking hands. Effective, yet gentle hand cleansers and creams can protect the skin and help reduce the negative effects of wearing gloves. In order to keep employee hands healthy and happy, it’s important for employers to understand how to best protect worker’s skin and promote a positive hand hygiene compliant environment.


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Visible Consequences


Red, irritated and dry hands are often considered just “part of the job,” but OSDs can cause severe, visible consequences for a company. One case of OSD can cost an employer approximately $3,500 in workers’ compensation claims, resulting in an average of about 24 days of disability, according to the Journal of the American Medical Association. Skin diseases can also decrease productivity, employee morale and lead to health and safety violations.


Gloves may protect employees from harmful substances, but if worn for too long, skin turns wrinkly, dry and soft. Wearing gloves for extended periods also causes moisture to build up and harbor within, increasing the risk of fungal infections. Broken skin can lead to other skin infections like Streptococcus pyogenes and S. aureus, which cause red, painful, swollen skin with ulceration, oozing or pustules.

Some OSDs are worsened by certain skin care products, making it crucial to check the ingredients of the products you’re providing employees. In fact, many industrial hand cleansers contain petroleum distillates and other hydrocarbon solvents to remove heavy soilings like tar, oil, grease and wax. These ingredients can harm skin, causing dryness, irritation or skin cracking. When the products meant to help cause harm, employees become discouraged to use them, furthering hand hygiene issues.


Handling the Threat


How can employers remove the threat of OSDs, yet keep employee hands safe and protected with gloves? Employers can start by incorporating a skin care program aimed to improve the skin health of its employees. Employers should look for a program that includes essential products, vital information and one that positively changes behavior and hand health habits.


An effective skin care program should be customizable but always include a complete range of specialist skin care products. These products should protect, cleanse, sanitize and restore skin and be scientifically proven, dermatologically tested and environmentally certified. Look for a range of products that are designed for all skin types and preferences.


An effective skin care range includes:


  • A protective pre-work cream. Pre-work creams protect skin against a wide variety of workplace contaminants and working conditions. Find a pre-work cream that is non-greasy, perfume-free and is compatible to use under all types of gloves. The sign of a great pre-work cream is when it absorbs into hands quickly, promoting smoother, healthier skin that is easier to clean at the end of a shift.
  • A range of hand cleansers for different jobs. From washroom foam soaps to heavy duty hand cleansers, an ideal skin care program should include a number of options employers can pick from. Steer clear of cleansers that use borax, pumice or other petroleum based solvents. Instead, look for a cleanser that uses alternative, natural ingredients and bio-scrubbers, such as walnut shells, cornmeal and olive pit.
  • Specialist hand sanitizers. When water and soap isn’t available, effective sanitizers help keep hardworking hands clean. Find a foam sanitizer that easily kills a broad spectrum of germs while remaining perfume-free.
  • A restorative after-work cream. After-work creams moisturize, condition and restore skin, making it an essential product for workers who use their hands every day. Similar to pre-work creams, after-work products should be dye- and perfume-free, non-greasy and quickly absorb into skin. Look for a restoration cream that naturally repairs lightly damaged skin and includes safe, gentle and conditioning ingredients.

Today,  To reduce risks, find an electronic system that is easy to set-up and use and delivers web based reports on hand hygiene compliance. Monitored dispensers for hand creams and cleansers capture all usage events to show employers when employees use, and don’t use, the product. Understanding the habits of employees is the first step to encouraging higher hygiene and skin care standards.


Click to read the full article original published in the February 2018 issue of Occupational Health & Safety.



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