Saving your Skin in the Construction Sector

Saving your Skin in the Construction Sector

01st November 2018

One of the latest topics being discussed seriously by health and safety experts is OSD – or occupational skin disorder.  This is also known as work related dermatitis and it’s very common, affecting 40% of workers at some point in their lives.  In fact, OSDs are among the most significant health and safety issues facing industry leaders across the world.  Surprisingly, industry culture here in the UK means that incidents often remain unreported and the threat of OSDs is not being confronted sufficiently.  The construction industry features on the Health and Safety Executive’s (HSE’s) list of industries which have a higher risk of occupational skin disorders, so over the coming weeks, we’re going to take a closer look at this subject so that all our readers are fully informed of the risks.  Make sure you get all the information you need by following us on Facebook or Twitter.

Most occupational skin disorders occur on the hands and forearms (this is logical as these are the parts of the body most often in contact with hazardous substances) and include the following conditions:

  • Contact dermatitis or eczema
  • Acne and folliculitis
  • Contact urticarial
  • Pigmentation changes
  • Skin cancer
  • Skin infections

Contact dermatitis is the most common skin condition with symptoms including redness, dryness, itching, cracking, swelling, blistering, flaking and bleeding.  There are two types of contact dermatitis, both of which appear the same, but have different causes:

  • Irritant dermatitis – caused by a physical or chemical agent that damages skin cells.  Irritant dermatitis makes the skin more at risk to other hazards like bacteria and chemicals.  However, the condition usually stops when contact with whatever causes the problem stops.  Causes include cleaning products, organic solvents, cement, metalworking fluids, chemicals, some plants and shrubs, and water.
  • Allergic dermatitis – this is caused by exposure to an allergen or sensitiser, in most cases a hazardous substance of some sort.  When the sufferer’s immune system reacts to it, they become sensitised, resulting in the problem being lifelong, with any further exposures to the substance leading to outbreaks.  Causes include allergens like cement, metals, resins, and latex. 

Although water is used for handwashing, too much exposure to water can cause irritant dermatitis, a common problem for those who are involved in wet work, including hairdressers and food sector staff.  Although gloves are often worn to protect hands from both water and hazardous substances, impervious gloves often cause sweating which can cause the dermatitis!

Contact urticaria is characterised by redness and swelling, which often disappear within 24 hours or so.  Latex is a common cause of this, so non-latex gloves should be made available.

Folliculitis is an inflammation of hair follicles and is commonly seen in the metal industry where workers are often exposed to mineral and soluble oils.

Pigmentary disorders encompass depigmentation (loss of skin colour) which can be caused by chemicals, thermal or physical trauma and ultraviolet radiation.  Hyperpigmentation (accumulation of skin colour), on the other hands, may be a result of contact with mineral oils, halogenated hydrocarbons, arsenic and a range of pharmaceutical substances. 

Acne is caused by a blockage and inflammation of the skin glands and can be caused by exposure to oil, halogenated hydrocarbons and coal tar.

Skin cancer can be a result of exposure to ultraviolet light (sunlight or artificial), ionising radiation, polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons, tar and tar products.

Don’t forget to look out for part two of this series next week.