Making hands matter

09 November 2015

With the cold weather upon us, it’s even more essential than usual for workers to implement the correct safety precautions as well as giving their hands and skin the extra care they need when exposed to cold temperatures. Chris Brooks, technical product manager at Deb explores the options.

Our skin is the largest organ of the body and as it sits externally, it’s exposed to a wide variety of environmental conditions, some of which eventually break down those defence mechanisms and produce skin irritations or dermatitis.

Working in low temperatures during the winter months, or those working in cold conditions all year round, can have a significant detrimental affect on the skin, and in particular the hands.

In conjunction with the contaminants and conditions workers can come into contact with on a daily basis at work, it’s not surprising occupational skin disease (OSD) is a serious health issue. OSD currently goes largely unreported in the workplace, with the incidence in Europe being underestimated by 10 to 50 times.

The invisible threat of OSD affects both an organisation’s efficiency and the health and well-being of its employees. It remains among the top three occurrences of occupational diseases, with skin diseases taking second place in the most common work-related health problem in Europe, which equates to more than 7% of all occupational illnesses.

Skin issues are one of the most important emerging risks on account of exposure to chemical, physical and biological factors. OSD can result in absence from work, lost or reduced productivity and therefore increased cost due to retraining and recruitment costs as well as bad publicity to a business.

With cold and adverse weather forthcoming, dried and cracked hands can be a common problem for those working outside and as a tradesperson’s hands are their most valuable tools, it’s not surprising how significantly OSD can affect employees’ morale and self esteem. For the individual, OSD can even lead to a forced career change.

However, most cases can be avoided by implementing structured skin management processes to reduce the risk of skin exposure to irritating substances, hazards and environments.

Deb has noted the significant affect the disease can have on employees and looks to improve hand hygiene compliance through education. From over 70 years of establishing skin care regimes for industrial workplaces and environments, Deb has developed structured skin management processes to reduce the risk of skin exposure to irritating substances and hazards.

Chris Brooks, technical product manager, comments: "Here at Deb we recommend that a ‘healthy skin’ workplace requires a safety mindset. Workplaces must focus on the provision of employers and acceptance by employees of protection and restorative creams as part of the daily work routine to improve and maintain skin health and reduce the risk of OSD.

"Addressing and reducing occupational skin disease requires an integrated skin care product approach to protect, cleanse and restore the skin and this is achieved with a daily best practice routine of using essential skin care products.”

A coalition of the world’s most eminent dermatologists recommend the daily routine use of protect and restore skin creams is essential to reduce the risk of occupational skin disease and help keep skin healthy.

Protect creams should be applied to clean hands prior to working or after washing hands and are formulated for specific applications to leave a protective layer on the surface of the skin.

The next step in this regime should be to use appropriate hand cleansers as soon as possible after hands become contaminated and/or immediately before/after visiting the toilet.

Finally, restore creams should be applied at the end of the day/shift or prior to prolonged breaks to clean hands and are formulated for specific skin conditions. They improve skin strength by moisturising, nourishing and conditioning the skin, preventing it from becoming dry or damaged, which can lead to occupational skin disease.

A key element to skin care compliance is ensuring that the appropriate products are available and accessible to workers where and when they are required. As such, the provision of skin care must take into account normal workflows and worker behaviour.