The 4 Steps of an Occupational Skin Program

Skin disorders are one of the most common forms of work related diseases in the United States. The frequent contact to a multitude of chemical, physical and mechanical hazards puts the skin under constant stress at work. Failure to protect skin from effects of cooling lubricants, grease, oil, acids and caustic solutions, detergents, cleaning agents, solvents, metallic dust and UV radiation and other work place substances will sooner or later lead to skin problems. Dry and chapped skin is the first indication of a looming skin disorder. Occupational skin disorders (OSD) can easily be averted at this early stage by protective measures and by paying more attention to the skin.

Published literature shows that 1 out of 1,000 workers will report a work related skin disorder per year in Western industrialized countries. But this is only the tip of the iceberg – most work related skin problems are not even reported. Sometimes workers do not realize that their skin condition is work related. Some even think cracked and irritated skin is proof of being a hard worker. Others prefer not to mention the issues because they are afraid of possible repercussions from their employer. It is likely that the number of unreported work related skin issues is 50 to 70 times higher than the reported cases. Doing the math it can be concluded that 1 out of 20 workers will experience work related skin issues.

Affected workers are likely to face economic, mental and social burdens. People look at our hands. And who would like to shake a hand with broken or inflamed skin?  Skin disorders, if they get worse, can even force people to give up their job. A short term disability and medical treatment already can cause monetary issues.

The 4 Steps of an Occupational Skin Care Program:

Pre-work skin protection creams help protect the skin against contact with various workplace contaminants, irritants and working conditions.

Mild cleansers adapted to the type and degree of soiling to avoid additional stress to the skin by hand cleansing.

Sanitize (where necessary/appropriate)
Hand sanitizer that can be used without water to kill germs and provide a higher level of hand hygiene.

After-work skin restore creams help to maintain the skin in healthy condition by keeping the skin smooth and avoiding dryness.

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An occupational skin care program will consist of 3 or 4 steps depending on the particular work situation: Pre-work products, mild hand cleansers, hand sanitizers if required, and restore products.  It is important to stress that an occupational skin care program and pre-work creams especially are not a replacement for prescribed protective measures.  They will complement the use of gloves but will not replace them.  The use of appropriate and intact gloves is especially important when handling harmful, toxic, corrosive or allergy causing substances.  Since gloves are designed to help to protect the skin against corrosive substances, the occlusive conditions may lead to skin softening and may also disturb the natural barrier function of the skin.  Glove usage may lead to a loss of dexterity as well.  Latex proteins or other raw materials from the glove rubber may cause allergies.

Gloves should not be worn longer than necessary and should be avoided if there is not really an indication for wearing gloves.  The use of a special pre-work cream can help to reduce the negative effects of wearing gloves.  This pre-work cream will make wearing gloves more convenient and will help to keep the skin in natural condition.  When using an under glove cream, make sure that the product selected is compatible with the glove material used.  Some cream components may degrade the glove material and make the glove ineffective.

Support the implementation of a structured skin management process. Pay attention to employee skin health and help make hands matter in the workplace.

Article written by Andreas Klotz of Deb USA, Inc.

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