Work-related dermatitis can be caused by exposure to chemical agents and wet work (it means having hands repeatedly wet for long periods during the working day). Other agents causing work-related dermatitis can be biological (e.g. plants and/or bacteria), physical (e.g. vibration and/or radiation) and mechanical (e.g. abrasion). Dermatitis accounts for about 70% of work-related skin disease. Hands are most at risk but other parts of the body can also be affected. (HSE, Work-related skin disease in Great Britain, 2016)
Your legal obligations
The Control of Substances Hazardous to Health (COSHH) Regulations require employers to identify the hazards associated with substances in the workplace, such as chemical agents and assess the extent of likely exposure when these substances are used. Based on these assessments, they must then determine the health risks. Once a judgement of the risks has been evaluated, controls to minimise these must be put in the place. The law is clear and until this has been done – employees may not work with substances hazardous to health.
The Management of Health and Safety at Work Regulations 1999 describes what employers are required to do to manage health and safety. These regulations are important for hazardous substances and wet working. Employers must consult employees and their representatives on health and safety matters including when prevention of dermal exposure is not reasonably practicable. Employees must co-operate with the employer to meet these legal obligations.
What are hazardous substances?
Many substances can penetrate the skin and are capable of causing diseases elsewhere in the body. While harmful substances and wet work are a major cause of skin disease, constantly working in uncomfortably hot or cold surroundings or excessively dry or wet conditions can also cause serious skin disorders. (COSHH)
In this context, these are substances (and wet work) capable of causing damage to the skin and can be divided into four groups:
- Those that can cause irritation to the skin leading to irritant contact dermatitis
- Those that sensitise the skin causing allergic contact dermatitis
- Those that cause other skin diseases such as skin cancer and skin discolouration (de-pigmentation)
- Those that cause other effects such as burns
There is a legal duty to prevent work related dermatitis by preventing skin contact with hazardous substances. This must be done by:
- Establishing a safe system of work, including safe handing methods
- Training and instruction of employees to help them carry out their work safely
- Providing suitable personal protective equipment (PPE), skin creams and adequate washing facilities.
It also makes sense to carry out regular skin checks to identify cases of dermatitis and ensure these controls are working.
- Immerse the hands in chemicals or allow prolonged repeated contact with the water
- Work to cause chemical splashes to the skin
- Allow skin to come into contact with contaminated work-pieces, surfaces, tools, clothing, etc.
- Know health risks associated with chemicals and products used in the workplace. Ensure the labels on the container are read
- Use tools and methods which will prevent skin contact with hazardous substances
- Use suitable protective gloves where necessary
- Ensure hands are washed and dried regularly, including before putting on and after removing protective gloves
- Seek medical advice if there are concerns about the condition of the skin
Pre Work Creams
Formulated to help the removal of dirt, by covering pores and areas under nails. They do not function as protective gloves and are not classed as PPE
Skin cleansers remove contaminants from the skin. When selecting cleanser – use the least powerful cleanser that will do the job.
After Work Creams (Moisturisers)
These creams restore the moisture content of the skin and provide a valuable contribution to reducing the risk of irritant dermatitis.
Disclaimer: The information provided through Greenham Pulse is for general guidance only and is not legal advice. Greenham Pulse is not a substitute for Health and Safety consultancy. You should seek independent advice about any legal matter.