How do I prevent skin problems in my business?
Does this concern me?
Yes, particularly if you work in one of these high-risk occupations.
- Catering industry
- Hairdressing industry
- Health services industry
- Dentistry industry
- Printing industry
- Metal machining industry
- Motor vehicle repair industry
- Construction industry
I don't work in one of these areas. Should it still concern me?
You could still have a problem. Find out what your workers are in contact with at work:
- Some products contain substances that can harm the skin or enter the body through skin contact. The product label or material safety data sheet should tell you if this is the case. Look for hazard warning signs, risk and safety phrases. These are explained in more detail on our labelling and packaging web pages.
- Not all harmful substances come in labelled containers. Substances can be generated during work activities (eg wood dust from sanding, solder fumes). Remember that handling some 'natural' substances like foods and flowers can cause skin problems too. If you are unsure if a substance emitted from a work process or natural substance you are handling is harmful, you can get help from a variety of sources eg some materials are listed in tables on these web pages, or try your trade association.
- Prolonged or frequent contact with water, particularly in combination with soaps and detergents, can cause dermatitis. 'Wet work' is the term used to describe tasks in the workplace that can cause this.
If their work does involve skin contact like this you can take simple steps to reduce the risk and prevent skin problems.
What should I do about it?
Use the APC approach.
- Avoid direct contact between unprotected hands and substances, products and wet work where this is sensible and practical, for instance:
- Get rid of the substance/product/wet work altogether.
- Substitute the product/substance for something less harmful.
- Introduce controls (such as tools or equipment) to keep a safe working distance between skin and substances/products/wet work. Our poster [264KB] explains the term safe working distance.
- Protect the skin. Avoiding contact will not always be possible so:
- Provide suitable personal protective equipment such as gloves. This can be complex so we have provided advice on glove selection.
- Provide mild skin cleaning cream that will do the job and washing facilities with hot and cold water.
- Tell workers to wash their hands before eating and drinking, and before wearing gloves. Suitable cleaning systems exist for mobile workers.
- Remind workers to wash any contamination from their skin promptly.
- Provide soft cotton or disposable paper towels for drying the skin. Tell workers about the importance of thorough drying after washing.
- Protect the skin by moisturising as often as possible and particularly at the end of the day – this replaces the natural oils that help keep the skin's protective barrier working properly.
- Use suitable pre-work creams.
- Check hands regularly for the first signs of itchy, dry or red skin:
- Regular skin checks will help spot the early signs of dermatitis or other skin problems caused by skin exposure
- The earlier that health effects are recognised and treated, the more likely it is that the sufferer will make a full recovery
- Checks can show whether an adequate standard of control is being maintained. They may give an early indication of lapses in control and a need to reassess the controls used
Further advice is available on health surveillance for skin diseases.
Your staff need to know about the simple steps. Further information and tools for you to inform and train workers are available in the training and information resources pages.
Finally, check regularly that all these actions are carried out in practice.
Individuals who suspect they may have a skin problem should visit their General Practitioner for advice and treatment if needed. The NHS also has useful information and advice on dermatitis, urticaria and skin cancer.