Saving your Skin in the Construction Sector – Part Three

Saving your Skin in the Construction Sector – Part Three

14th November 2018

Over the past few weeks we’ve been warning our readers about the dangers of occupational skin disorders (OSDs), a topic about which health and safety experts around the UK are currently raising awareness.  We’ve already brought you some information on the types of skin problems that can be caused in the workplace, followed by advice for construction company employers on the importance of combatting occupational skin disorders.  Today, we’re rounding off this series with information on managing the risks from skin exposure in the workplace.

Under the Control of Substances Hazardous to Health Regulations 2002, employers are legally obliged to make sure that employees’ exposure to hazardous materials by skin contact or absorption through the skin is either prevented or, if that is not reasonably practicable, adequately controlled.  Here’s some advice on that.

  • Preventing Exposure by Elimination or Substitution – the first step should be to prevent exposure by:
    • Eliminating the substance with the potential to cause health problems following skin contact – for example, using a scraper instead of a solvent to remove paint.
    • Substituting the substance by choosing a less hazardous substance – for example, replacing an aggressive cleaning product with a milder one, or even changing the form of the substance, such as changing a powder to a less dusty pellet-form.
  • Design and Operate Processes to Minimise Emission and Transmission – if prevention is not possible, this is the next most effective way to prevent skin problems, using some of the following options:
    • Enclose the source and automate the process, removing skin exposure for normal operations and limiting it to cleaning and maintenance tasks.
    • Enclose as much of the process as possible and use extraction ventilation to capture substances at the point of release.  Although this does not remove the risk from direct handling, it can help to prevent the spread of contamination to work surfaces, protecting employees working nearby.
    • Put up a shield (such as a splashguard or screen) between the employee and the source to prevent transmission.
    • Avoid direct handling of substances or contaminated work articles by:
      • Considering soluble packaging (for instance, pesticide concentrates can be delivered in water-soluble sachets.
      • Using mechanical handling or tools such as tongs, scoops and hooks.
      • Using automated dosing systems.
    • Reduce transmission by increasing the distance between the worker and the source (apply a safe working distance), for example by using long-handled tools to minimise skin contact.
    • Limit the spread of contamination by designating clear “clean” and “dirty” areas.
    • Practise good housekeeping – where contamination is unavoidable, keep levels low with regular cleaning.  Choose easy-clean surfaces and use drip-trays to prevent spills or drips from spreading.

Proper skin care and cleansing is an important factor in preventing skin disease and employers should provide adequate washing facilities, including a supply of warm water, soft cotton or paper towels, and moisturising creams.  Make sure that all employees maintain a high standard of personal hygiene consistent with the control of exposure.  Raise awareness in the workforce about the importance of drying the skin thoroughly after washing, using moisturisers to replace natural skin oils that are lost by washing and the action of substances on the skin.