Many materials used in the working environment can affect the skin, or pass through the skin and cause diseases in other parts of the body. Therefore, as an employer, you have a legal duty to assess the health risks that could arise through skin exposure to hazardous substances at work. The skin is the largest organ in the body and it’s main functions include providing a protective barrier against harmful substances and injuries, restrict the loss of moisture, reduce the effects of UV radiation, acts as a sensory organ (e.g touch, temperature), helps regulate body temperature and detect and protect against infections.
If the moisture content in the skin is too high or too low, it can significantly affect the skin’s barrier properties, which can increase the risk of developing skin disease. the four main groups of substances that can cause skin problems are corrosive substances that can lead to burns at the site of contact; irritant substances that can cause irritant contact dermatitis at the site of contact; sensitising substances that can lead to allergic contact dermatitis, and substances that cause other diseases, such as urticaria, acne or skin cancer.
In order to reduce the risk of work-related skin disease, you will need to assess the risks, put in place measures to control the risks (such as avoid or reduce contact with hazardous materials) , ensure workers protect their skin (with gloves and appropriate skin hygiene techniques) and then monitor for early signs of skin disease. Depending on the outcome of the risk assessment, health surveillance may be required. An occupational health specialist can work with you to identify if health surveillance is required and the most appropriate health surveillance programme to adopt at your workplace. If any of your employees work with skin hazards and are reporting symptoms indicative of skin disease (rash, itchiness, dryness, cracking, bleeding, scaling, redness) then an occupational health assessment would be required in order to identify any possible contributory workplace factors, advise on fitness for work and any temporary or permanent adjustments that may be required for that individual. For an informal discussion on skin hazards in your workplace, please call us today.