Occupational skin disease, particularly contact dermatitis, is probably more common than you realize — and it can be a long-lasting problem that can cause you a lot of misery. Around 50 percent of workers who develop contact dermatitis on the job still have problems even 10 years later.
Learn more about how to recognize this serious workplace safety problem and how to protect yourself.
What is contact dermatitis?
Contact dermatitis comes from direct exposure to a foreign substance on your skin. If the substance you are exposed to is dangerous, it can leave your skin swollen, inflammed, itchy, red or even blistered.
While dermatitis (which is also called eczema) can appear on any body part, its appearance on the hands indicates that it may be work-related, particularly if your condition comes on or worsens at work or your co-workers are also experiencing symptoms.
What causes contact dermatitis?
There are two basic causes of contact dermatitis: primary irritants and sensitizers. Primary irritants usually are fairly obvious and tend to cause a reaction almost immediately — or at least relatively quickly following the exposure. Primary irritants might include cleaning fluids, acid washes and any other sort of chemical that you know you need to be careful handling.
A sensitizer, however, is something that may only cause you problems over long-term exposure. For example, if you handle latex items on a regular basis, you may develop a skin reaction to the latex the way that some people develop other latex allergies.
How can you prevent contact dermatitis?
According to the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA), many workplaces are sensitive to employee risks when it comes to inhalation exposure when handling potentially irritating or toxic materials, but they aren’t so careful about skin exposure. You can limit your skin exposure if you’re an employee by insisting on the proper safety gear — especially gloves — when handling any sort of substance that you know or suspect may cause a problem through skin contact. Employers should consider replacing caustic or irritating chemicals in regular use with non-irritating or milder agents.
If you’re the victim of contact dermatitis, you may qualify for workers’ compensation benefits — especially if the skin issues make it difficult for you to work and your ongoing workplace safety is an issue. Talk to an attorney today about your rights.
Source: Health and Safety Authority, “Occupational dermatitis – Frequently Asked Questions,” accessed July 19, 2017