Saving your Skin in the Construction Sector – Part Two

Saving your Skin in the Construction Sector – Part Two

07th November 2018

Last week we brought our readers some information on occupational skin disorders (OSDs), a subject that’s currently being highlighted by health and safety experts across the UK.  The construction industry is one of the sectors whose workers are deemed most at risk from skin disorders resulting from the type of work they do, so today we have some advice for construction company employers on the importance of combating occupational skin disorders.

Employers are legally required to control the exposure of their employees to materials in the workplace which may cause ill health.  This means that employers are responsible for controlling exposure to materials that cause skin diseases and to materials that may enter the body through the skin and cause problems in other parts of the body.

In order to comply with legislation, namely the Control of Substances Hazardous to Health Regulations 2002, employers are required to:

  • Assess risks
  • Provide adequate control measures and ensure they are used and maintained
  • Provide relevant information, instruction and training
  • Prove health surveillance in appropriate cases

The skin is a complex and active organ and a failure of any of its functions can have serious health consequences.  When it comes to occupational health, the skin’s ability to act as a barrier is vital.  The firmness, elasticity and correct functioning of the skin depends on its moisture content because the retention of water is aided by substances known as natural moisturising factors, or NMFs.  This means that the skin is a semi-permeable barrier and, if the moisture content of the skin is too high or too low, it will affect the skin’s ability to act as a natural barrier. 

For example, if the skin becomes overhydrated (from prolonged contact with water or from wearing gloves that prevent sweat from evaporating), the NMFs will cease to function correctly.  Conversely, if the skin becomes dehydrated (as a result of an air-conditioned environment with low humidity), the skin becomes rough, thick and flaky, eventually resulting in cracking due to loss of elasticity.

The surface of the skin also acts as a barrier to prevent bacteria and other harmful contaminants from penetrating it.  The surface film on the skin is slightly acidic which helps to neutralise contaminants that are alkaline in nature.  This means that excessive use of alkaline soaps can destroy the acidity and the protection it provides. 

When the skin is breached by contaminants, it has a limited range of protective responses, the most common one being dermatitis or eczema.  This results in redness and heat from the dilation of blood vessels; swelling and blistering from plasma leaking from the vessels to the surrounding skin tissue; and itching caused by stimulation of the nerve fibres.  Work related dermatitis is known as exogenous dermatitis or contact dermatitis.

Around 95% of work related skin diseases occur on the hands and forearms, with the majority of the rest affecting the face.  Most work related skin diseases are contact dermatitis caused by external agents.

Next week, we’ll have more information on protecting the skin from work-related diseases – be sure to follow us on Facebook or Twitter so that you’re fully informed on this health and safety issue.