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Skin hazards – spotting the dangers

The skin is the largest organ in the human body. It restricts the loss of moisture, acts as a sensory organ, regulates temperature, produces vitamin D and provides a protective barrier. It is not a perfect barrier, however, and some substances can pass through the skin and into the body, whilst others can damage its surface.

Identifying dangerous substances
Skin hazards can be substances used in, or generated by, work processes. These might be naturally occurring, biological or man-made. There are a number of places you can find information that will help you identify dangerous substances such as the Health and Safety Executive’s (HSE) Skin at Work Website, product labels and material safety data sheets, trade associations and their journals.

As part of the risk assessment, you will need to consider what the substance(s) is, how much is used, how long it is used for, what parts of the body it is in contact with and for how long. You will also need to consider whether the hazard is solid, liquid or gas as this will help determine the kind of coverall protection you may require.

As well as any short term effects, it is also important to understand the ongoing health effects associated with hazardous substances, keep workers properly informed and ensure that any symptoms are recognised at the earliest possible stage.

Health Effects
Skin hazards can be broken into five main types:

  • Burns –  Severe skin damage, which may lead to scarring, can occur after brief contact with a corrosive substance such as wet cement, strong acids and strong alkalis
  • Irritant contact dermatitis (ICD) – This is a skin reaction that leads to inflammation at the point of contact. Symptoms include dry, red or itchy skin, swelling, flaking, blistering, cracking and pain. ICD can develop after regular exposure to mild irritants, such as detergents, or through prolonged or frequent contact with other substances, even water
  • Allergic contact dermatitis (ACD) – ACD is also known as skin sensitisation. The symptoms are similar to ICD but once someone has developed an allergy then even a tiny amount of the substance can trigger a reaction
  • Other skin diseases – These include urticaria, a mark that appears quickly after skin contact and disappears again within hours, skin cancer and acne
  • Systemic diseases – These occur when harmful substances pass through the skin and cause diseases in other parts of the body. These include cancer, diseases of the kidneys, heart, circulatory and nervous systems and poisoning.

If you would like to know more about skin hazards and how to identify them, please call our Helpline today on 0870 60 800 60 (UK) or 1 800 320 500 (Ireland)  and we’ll be delighted to answer your questions.

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