Mining and quarrying workers have to deal with the dangers of working with heavy loads and equipment as well as unstable underground conditions on a regular basis. However, when examining the risks to industrial workers, what is often neglected is the strain that their skin, the most delicate and largest organ of the body, is placed under. The skin on the hands, in particular, can be easily damaged in the workplace by a range of hazardous substances, and by UV radiation from the sun.
Each occupation contains its own risk to employees, but for mining and quarrying workers, this level of risk is dramatically heightened. According to a report by the European Agency for Safety and Health at Work, the mining and quarrying industries have the highest number of incidences of skin disease per 100 full time employees than any other profession at 31.5. The next highest incident rate recorded is 10.4 for manufacturing employees and 9.1 for those working in construction.
This is unsurprising, considering the multiplicity of potential irritants which employees can come into contact with in mining and quarrying workplaces. Fossil fuels and their by-products, cleaning products, organic solvents, metalworking fluids, cement; all are hazardous substances that employees could be exposed to at their workplace. Limestone quarrying contains an additional risk for the hand health of employees, because if wet lime comes into contact with the skin, then its alkaline components have the potential to penetrate and burn the skin. In mining and quarrying, a variety of machinery is also commonly used, again heightening the risk of skin damage from contact with substances such as diesel, lubricating oil, grease and coolant. Contact with all of the above chemicals can occur through immersion, contact with contaminated tools and surfaces or by the substance splashing onto workers hands.
However, the risk of skin damage to mining and quarrying workers is two-fold, as employees are also at risk from excessive UV exposure. Workers in the industrial sector spend upwards of eight hours a day outside, and rarely protect themselves. Industrial workers are also likely to be in close contact with concrete, a highly reflective surface for UV rays, again increasing the risk. Despite the risk of irreparable skin damage from UV rays, it has been revealed that only 59% of outdoor workers use sun cream whilst at work, whilst 70% of workers stated that they hadn’t received any training on the risks of working in the sun.
Both hazardous substances and UV rays can have disastrous effects on hand health, and for those in the mining and quarrying professions, this can lead to visible skin problems; ranging from sore, chapped skin, to instances of occupational dermatitis. The latter skin condition is a common diagnosis for UK workers, with 70% of occupational skin diseases being diagnosed as the more serious contact dermatitis.
Why employers must minimise the risk of skin damage
It is in an employer’s best interest to minimise the risk of occupational skin diseases, as a diagnosis can lead to absenteeism, which can hamper work productivity, increase costs for the employer, reduce employee efficiency and create poor staff morale. For the employee, they are likely to suffer a loss of income due to a prolonged absences from work, as well as it impacting their well-being and personal life.
Excessive sun exposure without effective protection can be even more damaging for hand health as it can lead to skin damage, which can cause excessive ageing, sunburn, eye damage and skin cancer.
Due to the high risk involved in working in both mines and quarries, employers must understand that they have a duty of care towards their workers. Employees should be effectively protected from hazardous substances in the workplace and UV rays. This can be done by reducing contact with harmful materials where possible, providing employees with effective skin care protection products and providing education on the associated risks.
For employers in the mining and quarrying industries, a three step hand care plan is usually favoured. The first step is to protect the skin before it comes into contact with any contaminants by using a cream which is perfume-free and non-greasy; and therefore able to protect against water and non-water based irritants. Cleansing the hands is the next step, which, if done effectively using the right products, will wash away any dirt and grime that comes into contact with the skin to minimise skin irritation. Thirdly, the skin will benefit from a carefully formulated after-work cream to restore and replenish the skin.
If employees implement this three step hand care plan in the mining and quarrying industries, alongside an effective UV protection plan, then not only will it ensure work productivity and profits are high for employers, but they will also have a healthy and happy workforce.
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