When going into work, very few of us think about the risks we are taking to our health; most notably, our skin. But, believe it or not, our skin is exposed to many dangerous factors on a daily basis whether you work in the catering industry, with hazardous chemicals or even in an office. This article is going to look at what some of these dangers are, and list some ways of how to avoid these problems.
What are the dangers and where do they come from?
There are many materials used at work that can irritate the skin and even pass through it to cause disease to other parts of the body. These substances come in four main groups: corrosive substances; irritant substances; sensitising substances and substances that can cause other disease such as acne, skin rashes (urticaria) or in extreme cases skin cancer.
Burns: Burns can come from corrosive substances found in different places depending on the environment in which you work in. Some obvious ones are wet cement or strong acids and alkalis as well as hot water or steam from the kettle when you make a hot drink.
Irritant Contact Dermatitis (ICD): This is the most common form of occupational skin disease and can come from any kind of workplace. The skin turns red, itchy and swollen. It can be caused by detergents, paints, weak acids or alkalis and some solvents. Once treated it will go away, however, it is likely to come back if steps are not taken to avoid it.
Allergic Contact Dermatitis (ACD): this can also be called allergic contact eczema. When a substance touches the skin and the immune system sees it is being a foreign body, the skin becomes red and itchy and begins to weep. It’s very similar to ICD, only it may take days or months to surface and once you’ve had a reaction, the only way to prevent it from returning is to avoid said substance in the future. A very common disease that falls under this bracket is ‘wet work.’ This occurs with prolonged exposure to water and is most common for caterers, hairdressers, health works and cleaners.
Acne: Grease, oil and dirt can be a leading factor in the cause of acne. Make sure to wash your hands and avoid direct contact to these things to prevent a break out in pimples.
How to avoid these skin problems
There are steps that we can all take on a daily basis to avoid any of the above conditions.
#1 Check the containers of any substances to see if they are corrosive. If so, they may have some common hazard symbols on them. The symbols and their meanings can be found here: http://www.labdepotinc.com/articles/hazardous-chemical-information.html
Ask your employer to replace the items with less corrosive ones if possible.
#2 Wear gloves and protective clothing when dealing with any chemicals or substances that are dangerous to your skin. Not only will gloves prevent you from ICD or ACD, but wet work, too.
#3 Wash and dry hands regularly including after removing gloves and protective clothing. It is also beneficial to keep skin moisturised so that it does not dry out and become irritated. This will replace the natural oils in our skin that act as a protective barrier.
#4 If an area has become contaminated, make sure to put a barrier or sign up either in front of or around the contaminated area. It’s of key importance to keep employees as at far a distance from the harmful substance as possible.
You should do regular checks of your skin to look for any possible damage. Check for any signs of itching, pain, redness, swelling, small blisters and flaking scaly skin. In the case that you do notice an issue, use the following as guides only.
What to do if your skin becomes contaminated
- If your skin does become contaminated with a substance, make sure to wash it off immediately.
- Tell your employer so that they can take steps to prevent the situation from happening again.
- If ICD or ACD persists, make sure you tell a doctor promptly.
The above steps are very simple; however, thousands of employees are diagnosed every month with occupational skin diseases. Make sure you don’t become another number in this ever growing list by following this basic guide.