Helping an employee with skin problems
The HSE recommends early intervention for all work-related ill health as a key aspect of ensuring the best outcome for the employee and the employer. Its important to protect an individual who has a suspected occupational skin disease from further exposure while the cause or causes of the symptoms are investigated and identified. Once an employee has developed a skin problem, exposure must be controlled to prevent further skin problems and the employee should avoid contact with the substance. As a last resort, the employer may have to consider if the employee should be given a new role.
Not all skin problems are due to occupational factors, and employers need to consider whether an employees condition has been made worse by work. For example, an employees genetic predisposition towards dermatitis or pre-existing dermatitis could be exacerbated by wet work. Employers also need to consider whether the condition could make work difficult for the employee.
Immediate medical advice
When an employee develops a skin disease, they should be put in touch with the employers occupational health service (occupational physician or occupational nurse). If the employer doesnt have an occupational health service, the employee should be advised to consult their GP. Its important that the employee can provide information about their work and the materials they handle so that the health practitioner can make an informed judgment about the likely cause and prescribe appropriate treatment.
Employees can get advice from the NHS inform website. With serious skin problems, expert medical advice should be sought as soon as possible.
Information about specific conditions
The HSE provides brief descriptions about the different types of occupational skin disease.
The British Association of Dermatologists has comprehensive factsheets on acne, contact dermatitis, melanoma and urticaria. Each factsheet defines the disease and provides information on causes, symptoms, diagnosis, treatment and where you can get more information.
The Canadian Centre for Occupational Health and Safety (CCOHS) website has comprehensive factsheets on acne, allergic contact dermatitis, irritant contact dermatitis and skin cancer and sunlight. This site focuses on these skin diseases from an occupational point of view. As well as providing information on causes, symptoms, diagnosis and treatment, the website also offers information on occupations at risk, associated substances that can cause a problem, and outlines preventive measures.
You can get more information on skin diseases at the HSE website.
Advice for employers
Its important that you investigate skin problems thoroughly to identify the causes and prevent further exposure. Occupational physicians and dermatologists can help you identify and manage skin problems. They may use patch testing as a way of identifying whether a particular substance is causing allergic contact dermatitis. Occupational hygienists can also help you identify and control risks.
The following booklets Occupational diseases of the skin and A guide to occupational skin disease provide information and advice to help you address skin issues.
If a doctor confirms that an employee is suffering from an occupational skin disease, you must report it to the HSE under the Reporting of Injuries, Diseases and Dangerous Occurrences Regulations (RIDDOR) 2013.
Advice for employees
If you have a skin problem, you should tell manager and/or safety representative immediately. You should also speak to your manager and/or safety representative if controls arent working. This includes using gloves that are worn or inappropriate for the work you do. Its important that you have a skin check-up and attend health surveillance sessions if your employer asks you to.
Review of skin management protection programme
If skin problems are detected in the workplace, employers should review their skin protection management programme, or develop one if they dont have one already. A programme should cover:
- risk assessment
- control measures
- monitoring of exposure
- health surveillance
- education and training. These aspects are discussed in Preventive action and early intervention: skin protection management programme.
The Peninsula Medical School literature review provides an evidence base for early intervention in sickness absence in the report Avoiding long-term incapacity for work: Developing an early intervention in primary care.
The European Agency for Safety and Health at Work report on Skin diseases and dermal exposure: policy and practice overview includes advice and presents principle policies in relation to skin disorders.
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