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It Isn’t Just a Rash: Preventing Contact Dermatitis in the Workplace

One area that is often overlooked in the workplace is skin problems. Contact or occupational dermatitis can be found in almost any industry and thousands of people suffer from it each year because of their work. The problem is that there is often not just a single cause and it can take a good deal of detective work to find the source and deal with it.

What is Contact Dermatitis?

Redness of the skin, blotchiness, cracking and even bleeding, contact dermatitis can occur anywhere on the body. It can be caused by being in contact with certain substances at work. For example, those employed in the catering industry or health care may get it because they have to wash their hands so much. It is not an infectious condition but can have serious consequences for the sufferer and present problems for the employer if time needs to be taken off work.

You might be lucky and it could just be the type of soap your employers are using but there could in fact be several reasons why contact dermatitis is a problem. There may even be contributory problems outside the workplace that are making things difficult for an individual. Some people are more sensitive to certain materials than others. For instance, many working with cement in the construction industry will have no problem at all handling the material whilst others may be sensitive to the chromium it contains.

One area that employers and staff need to get right is access to personal protective equipment (PPE). Where contact with hazardous substances cannot be avoided or properly managed using other methods such as management or avoidance, the proper clothing protection is paramount. This can include anything from the simple use of gloves for those carrying out washing duties in a kitchen environment to specialist clothing such as overalls for those prone to more exposure.

It may not be down to your working practices at all but something that the person has eaten or touched at home as there are various allergic reactions that could be responsible. Finding the exact cause and your responsibility as an employer in it, is important not only for the wellbeing of your employee but also to make sure that you are providing a safe environment to work in.

What to do with a Case of Dermatitis

With so many variables involved it helps to get a professional who can take a structural approach to the condition and come up with a reason why it is happening. This involves taking a clear history of the individual involved including a visual assessment of the skin condition. You also need to take a look at the working environment and how the person uses it on a daily basis. Sometimes there is a clear connection, but often it can be a number of contributory factors that need to be taken into account. The person might benefit from a visit to dermatologist or it may be simple question of changing hand washing techniques or the kind of soap that is being used or a variety of other processes.

Getting to the bottom of contact dermatitis is important – a rash that appears and disappears for no apparent reason is one thing, but if the condition worsens and the employee has to take off time from work then problems start to occur. Not least is the possibility that you, as an employer, might be liable for causing the problem in the first place under the Control of Substances Hazardous to Health Regulations.

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