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3 Types of hazards that can cause occupational skin diseases

by , 23 May 2013
You have a legal duty to protect your employees from occupational hazards which may lead to skin diseases. If you don't, you could face criminal prosecution.

What's more, your employee may no longer be able to perform their job function and you'll lose a valuable resource.

Lets look at some of the hazards that can cause skin diseases in more detail.


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3 Types of hazards associated with occupational skin diseases

Most work-related skin diseases can be caused by exposure to chemical, physical or biological agents.

1. Chemical Agents

These may be strong irritants and corrosives which have immediate effects. Chemical agents would include the following:
  • Hydrofluoric or chromic acids;
  • Hydrochloric, sulphuric or nitric acids;
  • Ammonia or caustic soda solutions;
  • Petroleum oils, solvents (e.g. thinners); and
  • Corrosive salts (e.g. zinc chloride)


Workers producing coated fabrics handle solvent soaked coating material. They transfer a lump of the material to the coating machine. At the machine they spread the material with their hands.
They then clean their hands with solvent-soaked rags and they repeat this process for mo
st of the day.

Handling solvent-soaked material is a good recipe for irritant contact dermatitis (ICD). There's significant absorption through the skin, which may cause damage to other parts of the body (e.g. the kidneys or liver). This happens when the substance enters the skin through your pores and travels to the blood stream which carries it to your vital organs.


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2. Physical Agents

  • Mechanical effects from friction, pressure or accidental injury;
  • Heat, cold or humidity;
  • Wet environments, such as prolonged contact with water; and
  • Ultra-violet radiation.

Mechanical injuries such as cuts, raw scraped skin, open sores or blisters can contribute to the development of skin infections and chemically-induced skin diseases as they allow an easier pathway for chemicals and other substances to enter the body.

3. Biological Agents

  • Bacterial or viral infections from handling raw meat or animals with broken skin;
  • Fungal infections between humans using communal welfare facilities, for example, scabies;
  • Insect bites, for example, those transferred from infected mosquitoes; and
  • Plant or plant products, for example, plants containing latex, gum or resin.

Mandy began nursing when she was 18 years old. Three years into her career she developed a severe allergy to the latex gloves she was required to wear for work. She was forced to give up nursing, at the early age of 29. She developed skin irritation and breathing problems from the exposure to powdered latex gloves and still has to carry a medical treatment with her in case she accidentally comes into contact with latex.

If your employees are exposed to any of these hazards, you must take measures to protect them from any harm.

How to identify and avoid occupational skin diseases
Look out for my next bulletin on skin safety in the workplace and I'll take you through some of the most common occupational skin diseases and how you can identify and avoid exposure to risks.

Until next time,

Kerusha Narothan
Managing Editor: Health and Safety Advisor

P.S. Find out how you can manage and prevent exposure to the risk of occupation skin diseases in the Section S13 of the Health and Safety Advisor.

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