Occupational eczema is a specific form of contact dermatitis, which is triggered by contact with a specific substance found in the workplace. It is one of the most common causes of ill health and affects workers in a wide range of industries.

 

Across all industries in the UK, approximately 84,000 people have dermatitis which is caused or worsened by their work. 10% of this figure is specific to the food and catering industries.1

 

This article will discuss the different causes of occupational eczema and possible ways of dealing with it, which usually specifically involves managing prevention rather than a cure.

 

According to the Health and Safety Executive, the following occupations are considered high risk for occupational eczema:2

 

Catering

 

Occupational eczema in catering

As mentioned previously, the food and catering industries account for 10% of workers who suffer from occupational eczema. Catering obviously involves a lot of contact with foods, which accounts for 40% of dermatitis cases in the industry.1 Irritant foods can include sugar, flour/dough, fruits, vegetables, spices, fish and meats. Catering can also involve a lot of wet work, which refers to any work which includes prolonged contact with water, soaps and detergents. Other causes can include contact with rubber/latex gloves, chemicals and cleaners and some alcohol-based hand sanitisers.

 

 

Hairdressing

 

Occupational eczema in hairdressing

Workers in the hairdressing industry suffer from occupational eczema due to many of the same reasons as those in the catering industry, such as wet work and prolonged glove wearing. Specific to the industry are exposure to irritants such as hairdressing chemicals, hot air and hair, and exposure to potential allergens from hair dye and bleaches.

 

 

Healthcare and Dentistry

 

Occupational eczema in healthcare

Much like with the previous two industries, dentists, nurses and other healthcare professionals can develop contact eczema due to the amount of wet work they do in their jobs, exposing them to soaps and cleaners. Other hazardous agents which may cause symptoms include latex gloves, bleach and sterilisers, preservatives, and fragrances.

 

 

Printing

 

Occupational eczema in printing industry

The printing industry also has a high number of workers who suffer from occupational eczema. Work-related substances used in printing such as wash-up solutions, inks and cleaning solvents, UV varnishes and inks, developed, thinners and hand cleaners can cause or aggravate skin conditions.

The printing processes themselves can also cause skin problems. These can include but are not limited to platemaking, correction of litho plates (thin sheets of hardened aluminium used in the printing process), solvent use, UV cured ink use, cleaning of litho rollers and cylinders, guillotining and press room chemical handling.3

 

Metal Machining and Motor Vehicle Repair

 

Occupational eczema in motor repair

These industries require workers to encounter certain fluids which can cause irritation of the skin. In metalworking, these fluids are used during the machining of metals to provide lubrication and cooling. Motor vehicle repair workers can suffer symptoms from contact with oil, grease, solvents and degreasing agents. They are also exposed to potentially toxic allergenic chemicals and cold working conditions which can also cause symptoms.

 

 

Construction

 

Occupational eczema in construction

 

Finally, the construction industry has a high risk for workers developing occupational eczema. Construction workers can be exposed to many different irritants which can cause symptoms. The common ones are listed below:4

 

 

  • Cement
  • Water
  • Abrasive hand cleaners
  • Saw dust
  • Dirt
  • Fibreglass
  • Glues and adhesives
  • Putty and sealants
  • Tar
  • Detergents
  • Heat and sweating
  • Friction (from using machinery)

 

Managing occupational eczema can be a challenge, short of leaving your job and moving to a different industry. However, there are a few steps that workers can take to reduce their symptoms and make their working life a little easier.

 

Identifying the offending irritant or allergen is the first step. This can be done with a series of tests undertaken by a clinician. Once this is determined, avoiding the offending substance or at least reducing contact with it is recommended if possible.

 

Your employer is required by law to control the exposure you have to materials found in the workplace which may affect your health. They should undertake a risk assessment and put in place control measures such as safe handling methods and safe working distance. They also should provide you with personal protective equipment suitable to the job required, for example protective gloves so you can avoid direct skin contact with the substance.  Suitable welfare facilities such as hand washing stations, cleaning products and moisturisers should also be made available to employers.

 

Of course, you should also ensure that you take care of your own health at work by following the guidelines your employers set out, using the protective equipment provided and taking care of your skin (for example using emollients to keep your skin moisturised).

 

 

  1. http://www.hse.gov.uk/food/dermatitis.htm
  2. https://www.allergycosmos.co.uk/commercial-air-filtration/blog/occupational-eczema/
  3. http://www.hse.gov.uk/printing/dermatitis/
  4. http://www.occderm.asn.au/resources-about-skin-health/construction-workers/