Who is likely to be susceptible to Dermatitis and what can I do to prevent it?
Dermatitis is the most common occupational health disease in the UK. In fact it is one of the major causes of occupational ill health. Statistics show that occupational dermatitis makes up almost two thirds of compensation claims under the social security scheme for prescribed industrial disease.
Skin anywhere on the body may be affected by work-related dermatitis, but it most commonly affects the hands, as these are the parts of the body that come into contact with chemicals most frequently. Some cases of facial dermatitis have been associated with low humidity and also with the use of visual display units (VDUs) as discovered by the National Radiological Protection Board (NRPB) in a report on the hazards of ionising and non-ionising radiation in VDU users, although the cases are rare and the causes have not been proven.
It is usually impossible to predict who will develop dermatitis. In the case of contact dermatitis, caused by removal of natural oils from the skin, anyone may be susceptible. High standards of personal hygiene are important, so workers who fail to wash their hands after working with solvents, etc may be more likely to develop the condition. In the case of allergic dermatitis (sensitisation of the skin to particular chemicals, such as cement) anyone may develop it, even if they have never had an allergic reaction in their life. However, some doctors believe that people who are more prone to allergic reactions, such as those with existing cases of eczema, may be more susceptible to occupational dermatitis.
High levels of stress are known to increase the severity of eczema, so this is also likely to be a trigger for allergic dermatitis in someone who has not previously suffered.
Controls can be used to prevent the skin from coming into contact with chemicals, for example:
- Reduce the number of workers who are exposed to the agent.
- Only allow certain named individuals to carry out processes or work in areas that may lead to exposure.
- Eliminate sensitising substances from the workplace, where possible, for example by using water-based paints rather than solvent-based ones.
- Use mechanical methods for applying paint, or purchase solvents in smaller containers to avoid the need for decanting.Provide adequate washing facilities and ensure workers wash thoroughly after contact with sensitising chemicals.
- Anyone who may be exposed to an agent that causes dermatitis should receive suitable information, instruction and training, so that they are aware of the risks, know how to use the control measures and can spot the symptoms.
- Supervise workers to check that they are following the information, instruction and training they have been given.
- Ensure that suitable skin care, or barrier cream products are available to workers and ensure they are used.
- Provide protective gloves if other methods of control are not fully protective, however personal protective equipment (PPE) should only be used as a last resort.
Depending on the level of risk, a regime of medical surveillance should be considered. Specialist advice will provide guidance on the detail of this.