Skin Disease and Work

Contact with substances handled at work can give rise to occupational skin disease, also known as dermatitis.  Dermatitis means inflammation of the skin; it is also referred to as eczema.  When a person has dermatitis the skin can look red and sore, cracked or broken, sometimes even blistered. 
Dermatitis can be caused by chemicals which are skin irritants or chemicals known as sensitisers that give rise to allergy.  The way the skin looks for both these skin issues is often the same.  There are a range of substances and hazards which can be skin irritants or sensitisers:

  • Cleaning chemicals
  • Laboratory chemicals
  • Food ingredients, e.g. vegetables, fruit, seasonings
  • Maintenance materials, e.g cement, wood dusts, solder, oils and resins
  • Animal and human waste products
  • Protective equipment designed to stop contact, e.g. rubber and latex gloves

Under the Control of Substances Hazardous to Health Regulations 2002 (as amended), employers need to risk assess all activities which involve such hazards and put in place controls to prevent exposure at such a level where it would cause harm to employees.  Employees have a duty to comply with all control mechanisms put in place for their safety, e.g. wearing Personal Protective Equipment, using guarding or ventilation equipment, engaging with health surveillance programmes run by the employer.

OH runs a health surveillance programme for employees with potential contact with sensitising skin hazards.  These are for staff employed in occupations where they may come into contact with relevant materials.  The need for health surveillance is determined by management through risk assessment.  Information is passed to OH by Hazard Identification Forms and COSHH data sheets. 

If you are identified to OH as potentially being in contact with a skin sensitiser, you will be contacted and asked to complete a skin surveillance questionnaire.  Following this you will be sent a review questionnaire every 6 or 12 months until you are no longer involved in this type of work.  You will be invited back to OH for discussion if you highlight any new symptoms that could be linked to you developing skin disease associated with your work.  If you are concerned about any new symptoms you are developing, you do not need to wait until you are sent your review questionnaire.  You should discuss this with your manager and they should undertake a Management Referral to OH for advice.  Alternatively, you can self-refer to OH to discuss these symptoms; you should be aware that if the symptoms require further investigation your management will need to be aware of this.  If the OH practitioner believes that your symptoms do require further investigation you will be referred to a relevant consultant.

Skin and Outdoor Work

It is well recognised and understood that sun exposure has the capacity to damage the skin and can lead to skin cancer.  People who work outdoors need to be aware of this risk.  Managers of teams or individuals involved in such work need to highlight the risk by undertaking risk assessment and advise on appropriate controls.  This can be the wearing of protective equipment and/or sunscreen.

Further Information

OH Health Surveillance and Screening Document
Skin Disorders (IOSH)
What are Work-Related Skin Diseases? (HSE)
Dermatitis at Work (UNISON booklet)
Keep Your Top On (HSE)