Occupational Skin Diseases are a major concern that can result in loss of work, costly medical expenses, and decreased quality of life. According to the October 2006 Bureau of Labor Statistics Survey of Occupational Injuries and Illness, skin diseases accounted for 16.5 percent of all reported private industry occupational injuries and illnesses (up from 15.6 percent in 2005).
Contact dermatitis, the most common occupational skin disease, has been blamed for an astounding $1.4 billion in direct medical expenses, with another estimated $500 million in productivity losses.2 Occupational skin diseases also pose a threat to public health. Given this, it is important to understand what occupational skin diseases are and how they can be avoided.
Contact dermatitis usually appears as a rash located at the point of exposure. Acute dermatitis may have a weepy, swollen, or blistered appearance, while skin suffering from chronic dermatitis may have more of a dry, cracked, and scaly appearance. More severe skin irritation may cause red blisters or burns, while weak irritant exposures can appear as very dry, itchy, thickened or scaly skin changes. Treatments for occupational skin disorders vary according to the disease.
Occupational skin diseases include:
According to American Family Physician (2002), workers spanning an array of industries are at risk of contracting skin diseases:
Exposure and examples of Workers at Risk
As the previous chart indicates, for many individuals who experience continuous exposure to the stated irritants, occupational skin disease may very well be inevitable.
Hand hygiene tends to be a problem because many people do not take the time to wash their hands correctly, nor do they do it frequently enough. Those who do wash their hands frequently do not wash as often enough and they spend less than half of the time required doing so.
In addition, if workers don't have convenient access to sinks, they may feel too pressed for time to find a washroom in which to wash their hands, or they simply may not make the effort.
Here are the key steps to good hand washing techniques:
Wash with soap and water for at least 20 seconds using warm water that is approximately 100 degrees Fahrenheit.
Scrub hands gently because harsh scrubbing can cause cracks and small cuts, giving pathogens a place to grow.
Dry hands thoroughly because wet hands are more likely to spread germs.
Use hand lotions to keep skin intact so that cuts and cracks do not occur.
The most effective way to clean hands and prevent the spread of disease is through proper and frequent hand washing using pure, uncontaminated (containers not open to the air) soaps. However, there are times when this is not possible or practical. In these cases, sanitizers can be used. However, sanitizers should be viewed as a temporary measure until hands may be properly washed.
Select hand sanitizers that have a minimum of 60 percent ethyl alcohol. Some sanitizers may have only 40 percent; these are not effective at reducing and eliminating germs, microorganisms, and other contaminants on hands. However, because sanitizers can dry hands, always use lotions afterwards to moisturize hands.
Finally, when hand so rashes develop notify appropriate medical treatment personal for assistance. This is important to avoid the long term consequences of occupational exposure to irritants or causative agents.