Much of the focus of mitigating harmful effects of chemicals on workers is on inhalation, but according to the National Institute of Occupational Safety and Health (NIOSH) more than 13 million U.S. workers are exposed to occupational skin disorders from skin exposure to chemicals.
That number, 13 million, makes occupational skin disorders the second most common type of occupational illness, according to NIOSH. Of those disorders, about 90 to 95 percent are classified as contact dermatitis, with the hand being the most commonly affected area. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) estimates annual costs for contact dermatitis exceeds $1 billion.
Occupational Skin Disorders identified by the CDC:
- Irritant contact dermatitis (skin damage and inflammation resulting from contact with hazardous agent)
- Allergic contact dermatitis (immunological reaction involving skin inflammation with repeated exposure; worker becomes sensitized to an allergen in the hazardous agent)
- Skin cancers
- Skin infections
- Skin injuries, and
- Other miscellaneous skin diseases.
There are multiple potential causes for Occupational Skin Disorders, including chemical agents, mechanical trauma, physical agents, and biological agents. Chemical agents are the main cause of such disorders, and are divided into two types: primary irritants and sensitizers. As the names would suggest, primary irritants “act directly on the skin through chemical reactions,” and sensitizers “may not cause immediate skin reactions, but repeated exposure can result in allergic reactions,” according to the CDC.
Though all workers have the possibility for exposure to any of these potential causes, the CDC highlights the following industries: food service, cosmetology, health care, construction, agriculture, painting, mechanics, and printing/lithography.
How to Protect Against Occupational Skin Disorders
The first part in solving a problem is identifying all present hazards and exposures through a thorough gap analysis of all facilities. SCT’s safety experts consistently recommend this tool to clients as a way to recognize strengths and weaknesses and provide a way forward to ensure compliance with all regulations and safety for all workers.
Post-analysis, SCT uses the hierarchy of controls, which orders the processes that best protects workers from most effective to least effective. Solutions to most workplace hazards, including addressing Occupational Skin Disorders, involves the use of one or more controls in the hierarchy pyramid.