Occupational skin diseases are a serious, though often ignored workplace hazard. Many workers, managers, and business owners often focus on other elements of workplace safety and employee wellness. Because occupational skin diseases may only cause mild effects at first, the link to workplace conditions is often less clear than with other types of workplace-related illness.
However, according to the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA):
“...in 2018, 25,000 recordable skin diseases were reported by the Bureau of Labor Statistics
(BLS) at a rate of 2.2 injuries per 10,000 employees, compared to 19,600 respiratory illnesses
with a rate of 1.7 illnesses per 10,000 employees.”
Finding ways to limit the frequency and severity of occupational skin diseases, then, should be a fundamental concern for business owners across several different industries. This short article takes an in-depth look at the different types of occupational skin diseases. We then offer a few prevention and mitigation strategies to reduce the negative effects associated with occupational dermatoses.
The Different Types of Occupational Skin Diseases
When most people think about how work conditions can affect their skin, we probably think about the issues of burns, cuts, and bruises. Working with dangerous machinery can certainly lead to dangerous cuts, and working under the sun for long periods of time is a great way to suffer sun burns and perhaps even develop forms of skin cancer.
Though these are potential workplace hazards, they are not classified as skin diseases. Rather, the different occupational skin diseases can be divided into three broad categories:
- Irritant contact dermatitis
- Allergic contact dermatitis
- Other forms of occupational skin disease
According to recent studies, at least nine out of ten cases of occupational skin disease are classified as some type of contact dermatitis. Furthermore, at least 80 percent of these cases are caused by working in wet or humid working conditions.
Some of the most common jobs or professions that are prone to suffering from the different types of occupational skin disease include:
- Textile workers
- Hairdressing/ beauty therapy
- Workers in the food industry
- Health care including dental and veterinary workers
- Laboratory workers, including scientists and laboratory technicians
- Agriculture workers, including farmers, gardeners and florists
- Home, business, and industry cleaning workers
- Painting and decorating
- Motor vehicle repair
- Construction work
All of these types of workers tend to be exposed to high levels of humidity during certain times of work. Furthermore, exposure to harsh chemicals is another cause of these common skin diseases. Irritant contact dermatitis is most commonly associated with exposure to chemicals in the industries mentioned above.
This type of occupational skin disease can include chemical burns and most cases of contact urticaria. Allergic contact dermatitis, on the other hand, results due to an immunological response (allergy) to a contact allergen. Only people who are allergic to a specific agent (the allergen) will show symptoms, thus generally affecting a smaller percentage of your workforce.
How to Prevent and Mitigate Occupational Skin Disease
In the case of allergic contact dermatitis, specific strategies will have to be developed for individual workers who have exhibited adverse dermatological reactions to certain elements within the workplace environment. Identifying the allergenic triggers is the first step in preventing and mitigating these types of skin disease. Once the triggers have been identified, managers and business owners can work with the individual workers to devise ways to avoid direct contact with those triggers, or mitigate the most adverse reactions.
In the case of irritant contact dermatitis, general policies and protocols can be implemented as part of the wide safety standards for the workplace. These policies will obviously be industry-specific. However, they general should obey the following best practices:
- Recognition and identification of cause
- Eliminating or enclosing the irritant (such as through encapsulated machines)
- Minimizing hazards (such as choosing less harmful chemicals to get the job done)
- Monitor the long-term hazards of exposure
- Appropriate treatment should an occupational skin disease arise (this could include topical or oral steroids, emollients, and antibiotics as prescribed by a medical professional)
Limit Workplace Skin Irritants With Work-Fit
Your business may also consider hiring a third-party team to help you design and implement the best safety standards to prevent occupational skin diseases. Work-Fit is a leading onsite and telehealth injury prevention and wellness management service for your workforce with years of experience in helping businesses from all different industries to create and implement holistic injury prevention programs.
Our injury prevention management program is a great tool for helping to improve the safety of your workers while minimizing exposure to skin irritants. We have a team of exercise physiologists, health and fitness professionals, and athletic trainers that are all trained in the top safety standards for dozens of industries, and can help you protect your workers and your bottom line from all different sorts of occupational skin diseases.
Contact Work-Fit today to see how we can help your company develop the best safety standards for your business!