Skin issues can be present in many professions from engineers and labourers to factory workers and printers. Work-related skin problems are not a new issue; they are something which is seldom spoken about in the workplace from the employer or employee perspective. Because of this severe lack of dialogue on the issue, it has been predicted that the incidence of OSDs may be underestimated by 10 to 50 times.
Here at Deb we want to make this often invisible topic, visible and give workers the opportunity to speak out about the health of their skin. We spoke to six employees from a range of professions who put their skin at risk each day from contact with potential irritants such as oil, grease and dust. We also wanted to learn how their working conditions, whether it’s cold, frost or sun exposure, put their skin at risk. Deb felt it was crucial that the voices of those on the ground, working day-to-day in these vulnerable environments, were given the chance to share their concerns; in turn helping break the cycle of poor occupational skin health.
The resulting conversations were fascinating. They demonstrated that employees have been ill-informed on what constitutes an occupational skin disorder, and therefore often aren’t aware that they are suffering from one. Skin diseases are in fact the second most common work-related health problem in Europe, with up to 40% of workers suffering from a skin issue at some point in their working life.
What is an Occupational Skin Disorder (OSD)?
When asked whether they had ever suffered from an OSD, all of the workers answered no, yet Tony, a Steel Worker, revealed that he had suffered from “bleeding hands and cracked skin”, a common symptom of an OSD and Jason, a Labourer, dismissed the poor condition of his hands as “typical kind of builder’s hands”. It wouldn’t be acceptable for an office worker to suffer from cracked, bleeding skin at work, so why is it seen as tolerable for those involved in construction or waste removal for example? Health & Safety Managers are responsible for informing workers on the risks of working in a certain environment, on how to help protect themselves against the risks and what to do if they think they are suffering from a work-related skin problem / an OSD.
Everyday implications of skin problems
For someone who develops a skin problem, the implications on their day-to-day life can be immense. Geoff, a Printer reveals: “I have seen skin disorders where your hands crack and it can be demoralising. It involves time off work and a subsequent loss of earnings, which is likely to affect the family.” In some cases, Geoff adds, it can affect a person’s grip: “It was so severe that workers were unable to use a knife and work properly, or be able to make a cup of tea. All of these things can affect the mental state of someone.”
The workers interviewed also highlighted that in their workplaces, health and safety talks are provided by their employer, but are focussed on preventing slips and trips in the workplace, and don’t highlight the importance of good skin health. Jason, who works as a labourer, agrees. With regards to skin health, he comments that: “It certainly needs to be put out there. There’s not a lot of information about the condition of the hands. A lot more could be done”.
Poor quality provisions
Whilst employees shared their concerns on the lack of training on occupational skin health, they also remarked that whilst employers do provide provisions to look after the skin in the form of a selection of creams, the creams are of poor quality and employees are not provided with the corresponding training on why, how and when these creams should be used. Jason adds that the current creams at his workplace “tends to be greasy and I find myself rubbing it in for 10 or 20 minutes at a time, and yet I still find myself having to find a towel to wipe them because they remain greasy.” Geoff is in agreement: “They take a long time to be absorbed into the skin and they leave your fingers greasy. I haven’t found a cream that is suitable.” Due to the poor quality of the creams and the lack of knowledge on their importance, employees are either using the creams on an ad hoc basis or not at all.
The cream of the crop
Deb then provided the interviewees with a Deb cream and asked them to give their honest opinion on the product, and whether they were likely to use it in the future. The creams received a unanimously positive response. Howard commented: “The cream soaked in straight away and smells quite nice. If you looked after your hands properly and you used this sort of cream I think it would cut down on major issues at work. Geoff even questioned: “Can I take this Deb cream away with me? Because it is very good!”
Skin health matters – don’t leave it too late
Employees must speak out to their employer about OSDs as early as possible in their career. Lee, a Labourer, commented: “It’s not until later on in life – when you have been in your job for a while – that you realise just how detrimental skin health is. I want my children to look after their skin in the future, and avoid suffering in the same way that I have.”
Whether you are an employee about to embark on your first job, you are approaching retirement, or anywhere in between, it is crucial that you understand that your hands will matter now, and throughout your entire life.
Through employees speaking out about the importance of their skin health in the workplace to their Health & Safety Managers, Deb hopes that lessons can be learnt about the protection of skin, and that the cycle of poor skin health can be broken.
To learn more about how Deb are helping workers to speak out about OSDs, click here.
 European Dermatology Forum White Book – Skin Diseases
 Centers for Disease, Control & Prevention
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