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Reduce the Risk of Occupational Dermatitis through Skin Care Management

December 10, 2013
Preventing Occupational Dermatitis

This blog post originally appeared on HP Connect and is featured here with kind permission.
Occupational Dermatitis can be defined as an inflammation of the skin caused by the working environment or by skin contact with a damaging substance.  Occupational dermatitis is among the most frequent occupational diseases.


The symptoms and seriousness of the condition vary widely. Symptoms usually begin with redness and irritation, and occasionally, swelling. Blisters may follow and, if these break, the skin may become infected.


Contact with some substances can cause small areas of the skin to thicken, eventually forming rough wart-like growths which may become cancerous.  Any part of the body may be affected. Dermatitis is not contagious, but if untreated it may spread to other parts of the body. Correct treatment at an early stage is essential.


Dermatitis occurs when the structure of the skin is damaged, or the protective mechanisms are thrown out of balance by external agents such as irritant substances, sensitizers, working environment and skin abrasion.  Occupational Dermatitis is a serious problem – the working time lost can be problematic for both staff and businesses. 


In a recent Journal of the American Medical Association (JAMA) *study, 727 workers compensation claims citing occupational dermatitis as the cause of injury were reviewed. 84%of the claims were found to be compensable, with the average cost per claim estimated to be$3,552 USD, along with average disability time of 23.9 days.


Many cases will result in an average of 2 months away from work, and if it is not treated quickly and effectively, more serious long-term problems may develop. The United States Centers for Disease Control and Prevention report that occupational skin disorders are one of the most common types of occupational illness, with estimated annual costs exceeding $1 billion. The CDC also estimates that up to 40 percent of workers will suffer a skin issue at some point in their working life, and that more than half of working time lost through industrial diseases is due to dermatitis.


Irritants will affect any skin, whether healthy or already damaged in some manner. Medical treatment is effective and if contact is eliminated or reduced, the condition is unlikely to recur. However, repeated exposure to irritants can lead to long term skin damage.


Download Preventing Occupational Skin Disease Manager's Guide

In addition to substances that the skin may come in to contact with, the work environment can also affect skin condition. Temperature, humidity and wind are all elements which, in more adverse conditions, can affect the skin’s ability to protect itself.


There are many products and substances used in the workplace that can damage the skin simply through their abrasive nature such as sand, plaster or cement which can lead the skin to be scratched or damaged. This leaves the skin more vulnerable to the possible effects of contact with irritants or potential sensitizers.


It is far easier to prevent dermatitis than to cure it.  Effective prevention, however, requires full co-operation between all involved, management and employees alike. The basic aim of prevention is to identify risks to the skin and look to eliminate or, at least, minimize them. 


There are five principal points to the process of implementing skin care management:


  1. Conduct an assessment of current work practices including substances which may represent a danger to the skin
  2. Introduce new processes, working practices or Personal Protective Equipment (PPE), as required
  3. Introduce a Skin Safety Regimen
  4. Staff training and communication to increase awareness and encourage compliance
  5. Ongoing monitoring and review


By taking the right preventative steps to minimize contact with damaging agents and adopting an appropriate skin safety regimen, the risk of occupational dermatitis can be reduced. 


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