The skin is the largest organ in the body and skin disorders are one of the most common forms of occupational disease, as shown in a 2011 study by the World Health Organisation. However, occupational dermatitis gets surprisingly little attention in the context of occupational disease prevention so the risks, protection methods, and recommended remedial treatments aren’t as widely known. Potential irritants and allergens affect some people and not others, so it’s important to be clued up about what skin hygiene advice you should be taking on board.
Some occupations have a higher risk of exposure to allergens than others: hairdressing, catering, health services, dentistry, printing, mechanics, and construction, for example. Whilst some products that see everyday use in these industries could contain mild irritants that can be easily washed off, others contain substances that can more seriously harm the skin or enter the body through skin contact.
Prioritising skin protection
Staff should be aware of the simple steps that they can take to protect themselves from irritating substances on the skin. Learning how to wash hands thoroughly is very important. To prevent irritation, soap should be fragrance-free, colourless, and suitable for everyday use, such as this Kleenex Frequent Use Hand Cleanser. The Health and Safety Executive have also provided guidance for protecting skin at work, which can be boiled down generally to a few main points of note.
Avoid irritating substances
To reduce the risk of contracting skin diseases in the workplace, look for hazard warning signs or phrases on the label of each product and, if possible, switch to a less dangerous alternative.
Avoid direct contact between your skin and harmful substances by using a non-irritant alternative instead or introduce tools and equipment that allow workers to keep a safe working distance between skin and the substance.
Protect your skin
When avoiding irritating products isn’t possible, you should make sure that you’re taking all the right steps to protect skin instead. Hand protection PPE is important even in workplaces without irritating substances as prolonged contact with any substance, including water and soaps, can cause dry hands or occupational dermatitis.
What hand protection equipment is right for your workers depends on the hazards of their specific workplace, but choosing the correct gloves for the job is essential. In workplaces where there’s a risk of dangerous skin exposure beyond the hands, wearing coveralls is an additional measure you can implement to further improve skin safety.
Skin barrier cream is also valuable in particularly hazardous workplaces, adding an extra layer of protection from harmful substances or contaminants while also making hands easier to clean.
It’s not always substances that present a risk to the skin in the workplace, however. On bright days, workers should be provided with sun protection cream in order to protect their skin from the sun’s harmful effects which can include blistering, ageing, and even skin cancer.
Finally, each workplace should provide a space for workers to wash their hands with warm water as well as mild skin cleaning cream, with soft towels for hand drying. Workers should be reminded to moisturise their hands as often as possible to replace the natural oils found in the skin.
As well as avoiding risks and wearing the proper personal protection equipment, checking your hands regularly for the first signs of itchy, dry, or red skin or occupational dermatitis is important. The earlier the signs of dermatitis are caught, the more likely you can counter the effects.
If it’s too late to avoid irritating substances or protect yourself and your skin has been damaged in the workplace – don’t worry. In most cases, it is possible to restore the skin to its former health with proper skin restoration products and practices.
After-work hand creams are ideal for using on a day-to-day basis and can help to bring skin back to a soft and supple state by moisturising and conditioning it to restore dryness or other damage. Restoring your hands to their best condition every time they’re in bad condition can help to prevent more serious cases of occupational dermatitis.
However, if you believe that you may have a long-term skin condition as a result of your work, be sure to visit your GP for prescribed medications that can help.