During North American Occupational Safety & Health Week from May 7th to May 13th this year, let's not forget to talk about skin care health in the workplace. There are hundreds of risks to the health and well-being of workers in North America including falls, chemical exposure, stress and physical accidents that receive a lot of attention, however the health of workers skin is overlooked.
In reality, the National Institute for Occupational Safety & Health (NIOSH) has estimated that workplace skin diseases account for 15%-20% of all reported occupational diseases in the United States, with estimated total annual costs (including lost workdays and lost productivity) up to $1 billion. The data provided above details the cases of reported skin disease and it is widely accepted that these statistics represent just “the tip of the iceberg” as this type of disease is vastly under reported.
Working skin is exposed to a multitude of harmful chemical, physical and mechanical hazards, and it is vital to take effective measures to protect skin when it is likely to come into contact with lubricants, grease, oil, acids, detergents, cleaning agents, solvents, metallic dust and UV radiation. The most common agents causing contact dermatitis are soaps and cleaners (27%), wet working (27%) and rubber chemicals and materials (17%).
In addition to pain, suffering and possible permanent damage, these employee skin issues result in lost productivity, increased absenteeism and possible health and safety violations. With all this in mind, it’s clear there is a need to look beyond protective gloves to address the care of hands themselves.
Employees often think having cracked or dry skin is simply part of the job, not realizing cracked skin can lead to more severe problems because it allows harmful substances to more easily penetrate the skin’s outer layer.
In order to prevent skin damage workers must be educated about the importance of maintaining healthy skin and how doing so can prevent doctor visits and lost work time. They need to know the potential hazards of the substances they work with and how those substances can affect their skin. Education on how to safely and effectively remove those substances from their hands during the workday and once their workday is complete is also critical.
In North America and most other countries around the world, employers have a responsibility for the health and safety for their employees. Ignoring the issues can be costly to your business and can put your employees at risk.
Where it is not possible to protect the skin against workplace contaminants or PPE cannot provide sufficient skin protection, cleaning and taking care of the hands is an important part of developing a proactive, holistic stance against work related skin disorders. Implementing a skin care program in your facility can help prevent skin irritation. This program should be specific to the substances being handled, and include:
Instructions in proper application and when to apply.
Developing a Skin Care Management System is so much more than simply putting the right products in the right places. The system only works when it has the ‘buy in’ from the whole workforce. Management and Health and Safety Officers have the responsibility to ensure all staff are sufficiently aware and trained to understand the need for the program.
Talking to employees about skin care health in the workplace and identifying their risks is beneficial to both employers and their workers in the long-run.
Employers can learn more about the risks of occupational skin diseases and how to implement a skin care system by accessing free available resources online such as Manager's Guides and Audit Checklists.
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