Occupational Skin Disease
Fig.1 Workers in construction site are exposed to cement. They sometimes develop allergy to cement.
Fig.2 Allergic dermatitis from cement.
Fig.3 Skin allergy testing (Patch test). This is necessary to find the cause of allergy. It is a very safe procedure.
What is an Occupational Skin Disease ?
An occupational skin disease (OSD) is any skin disorder which is caused by a person's work. A person's existing skin disorder may also be made much worse by work activities, and such cases are also considered as OSDs.
The commonest type of OSD is dermatitis, an inflammation of the skin.
What are some causes of OSD ?
The commonest cause of OSD is irritation of the skin from contact with substances at work. Strong irritants (such as acids, alkalis or solvents) cause skin inflammation after a short period of skin contact. Weak irritants (such as water, detergents, coolants) cause inflammation after repeated exposures over a longer time.
Another important cause of OSD is allergy to substances handled at work. Examples of substances which can cause skin allergies are cement, metals and resins. Rubber gloves and boots worn for protection may sometimes paradoxically cause allergy.
How can OSD be recognised ?
OSD usually occurs on the parts of the body which come into contact with work substances. OSDs occur most frequently on the hands and forearms.
Early signs of OSD include dryness, redness and itch of the skin. If severe, the skin may become swollen and vesicles may develop. The skin may eventually become cracked, scaly and thickened.
These skin changes often improve when the worker is away from work, such as during weekends and holidays. Fellow workers who do the same job may also have similar skin problems.
What should be done for OSD ?
Any skin disorder which is suspected to be associated with work should be reported to the company nurse or doctor immediately. OSDs which are recognised and treated early can be cured. Do not let OSDs remain untreated - if left alone, they may become serious and chronic.
Very often, skin allergy tests are necessary to determine the cause of the OSD. Your doctor can refer you to a specialist for these tests.
Can OSD be prevented ?
Yes. Once the cause of OSD has been identified, your doctor can advise you on how to avoid the causative substance, thereby preventing the OSD from recurring.
The ideal method of prevention is to substitute the substance which causes the OSD with another which is less harmful to the skin.
If this is not possible, skin contact with the substances can be reduced by :
Installing devices in work operations, such as local exhaust ventilation, splash guards and screens.
Informing workers of any risks of OSD in the work environment, and education on proper work habits to avoid skin contact with harmful substances as far as possible.
Providing suitable, adequate and accessible protective equipment and washing facilities. These should be properly maintained and used.
DEDICATED TO EXCELLENCE IN DERMATOLOGY
By National Skin Centre (Singapore)
Copyright (C) 1995 - National Skin Centre (Singapore)