Occupational dermatitis is one of the most widespread causes of ill health and affects workers in many industry sectors, including food processing and especially catering.
Nationally, across all industries, an estimated 84,000 people have dermatitis caused or made worse by their work. The food and catering industries account for about 10% of this figure.
Occupational dermatitis accounts for:
- 10% of compensation cases under the Department of Work and Pensions Industrial Injuries Scheme, and
- 13% of cases of occupational diseases reported to HSE under RIDDOR
Causes of dermatitis
Water, soaps and detergents
In the catering and food occupations, the prolonged contact with water, soaps and detergents causes about 55% of dermatitis cases. This results in over 200 cases per year being reported by occupational physicians and dermatologists. Many additional cases will be seen by other medical professionals.
About 40% of dermatitis cases in the industry are caused by contact with foods. A wide variety of foods have been shown to cause dermatitis including sugar, flour/dough, fruits (especially citrus fruits), vegetables, spices, fish and meats.
Contact dermatitis can also be caused by contact with coins, rubber/latex gloves, chemicals and cleaners and some alcohol-based hand sanitisers/rubs.
Occupational dermatitis can be prevented by following a few simple precautions. Dermatitis is more easily prevented than cured and the costs of prevention are much less than those of a cure.
Find out if there is a problem
- Do workers come into contact with agents which could cause dermatitis?
- Monitor sickness absence due to skin problems (if there is one case there may be more)
- Investigate worker complaints and consult with safety representatives and employees
Decide what to do
- What is the cause and how many are affected?
- Can the cause of the problem be removed?
- Can the cause of the problem be substituted for something better?
- Can contact be prevented in other ways such as wearing gloves (but remember some people are sensitive to latex and rubber glove materials and may require cotton-lined gloves).
- Consider providing an after-work moisturising cream to replace lost natural skin oils
- Consider other measures, such as job rotation
- Monitor the situation to ensure the control measures are effective
- Consider the need to provide simple health surveillance by a responsible person to enquire about symptoms of dermatitis
Training and information to workers
An important element of prevention involves explaining to workers:
- the causes of contact dermatitis
- how to minimise the risks
- how to recognise symptoms
- the importance of reporting symptoms immediately