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Speaking out about occupational skin disorders

09 January 2018

There is still one vital area of health and safety that employers are not paying attention to. Paul Jakeway, marketing director of skin health specialist Deb, reveals why employees have to start speaking out about their skin health.

Does it sound strange that – while creating initiatives to tackle falls from height, respiratory diseases and injuries caused by machinery – few organisations have realised the risk their workplaces pose to their employees’ skin health? It should, because even fewer have taken action to handle this major health and safety issue or prevented the development of occupational skin disorders (OSDs) in their workplaces.

OSDs are a serious problem for workers across every industry and sector. Around 40% of employees suffer from a skin issue at some point in their working life1, and the problem is made worse by the fact that most employees underestimate the severity of the issues with their skin health – not to mention the impact on their lives. Many workers who develop an OSD will spend time off work, which affects their morale and reduces their earnings – as well as hitting their employer's productivity.

There is also the possibility that the incidence of OSDs may be underestimated by 10 to 50 times2. This can be changed by helping employees to speak out about their skin health, making this seemingly invisible topic, visible. It is critical that workers share their perspectives with Health & Safety Managers so that its importance can be realised.

Many workers fail to understand the effect their working conditions have on their hands, or that skin health is important, until it is too late. This often leaves them with sore, cracked hands, making it difficult to grip tightly onto tools or machinery because it becomes too painful. Some workers dread the day ahead, simply because they have not looked after their hands.

It is important for employers to remember their legal obligations when it comes to the skin health of their workforce. Under the law, employers have a duty to look after the health, safety and welfare of their employees when in the workplace. This means they are required to provide adequate welfare facilities, which includes the right protective and restorative creams for any given task.

Employers also have to give workers the information and training they need to help them maintain their own health and safety – helping employees understand the risks they face and how to avoid them. For example, workers need to know that even wearing protective gloves can cause issues, with sweaty hands often leading to the development of OSDs.

It can be tough for businesses to stay on top of their employees’ needs. However, there is a simple way for employers to provide workers with the necessary tools and education to protect skin health. This is in the form of a 3-step best practice programme that includes protective creams, cleansers and restorative creams. Protective creams increase skin strength during any task, while lessening the chance of contact with contaminants and irritants. Cleansers, as you would expect, remove contaminants, while restorative creams prevent damage to the skin by moisturising and conditioning it.

For certain types of work, employers are advised to give workers easy access to professional protect and restore creams. This allows them to reduce the impact of contaminants specific to their workplace, and improve the skin health of their employees.

Providing the right products is not the only concern for employers, however, and rightly so; Without regular and effective training on why skin health is vital, workers could easily miss the early signs of an OSD – and have no idea what steps to take after spotting it.

It is of critical importance for employers and employees alike to understand that poor skin health can affect other aspects of life. And, if the right standards of skin care are not adhered to in the workplace, everyone needs to speak out – otherwise, the cycle of poor skin health may never be broken.