Skin cream and hand sanitiser health and safety warnings


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Two health and safety warnings have been issued to occupational health practitioners about common products used both at home and in the workplace.

First, the Medicines and Healthcare products Regulatory Agency (MHRA) has partnered with the National Fire Chiefs Council, fire and rescue services and a number of health charities in a campaign to raise awareness of the fire risk of some skin creams that, when dried on to fabric, can create a highly flammable combination with the potential to cause serious injury and death.

They have highlighted that emollient skin creams, which are used by thousands of people every day to manage dry, itchy or scaly skin conditions such as eczema, psoriasis and ichthyosis, can be easily transferred from skin on to clothing and bedding.

The creams alone are not flammable, nor are they flammable when on the body, it has been emphasised. However, when fabric with dried-on cream comes into contact with a naked flame, the resulting fire burns quickly and intensely and can result in serious injury or death.

While healthcare professionals should continue to recommend them for chronic dry skin conditions and those using them should continue to do so as directed, they should also remain alert to the risk of fire when dried on to fabric, they have warned.

Since 2010, more than 50 deaths and serious injuries have been linked to the use of emollient skin creams, the MHRA has said. A review has shown that those most at risk tend to be over 60, smokers and those with reduced mobility. Anyone in this high-risk group, or their carers, should arrange a fire service assessment of their personal surroundings. They must exercise caution when close to naked flames or potential ignition sources (for example, lighting a cigarette).

Sarah Branch, director of MHRA’s Vigilance and Risk Management of Medicines Division, said: “We want to ensure that those who are at greatest risk, and their carers, understand the fire risk associated with the build-up of residue on clothing and bedding and take action to minimise the risk.”

Second, health and safety firm CE Safety has warned of the potential danger of using alcohol hand sanitisers in workplaces that use open flames/heat sources such as welding, soldering, grinding, cutting or even in a kitchen space. If there are flying sparks or anything of that nature at work, the use of alcoholic hand sanitiser poses a risk to fire safety, it has said.

Given the fact such hand sanitisers are becoming more commonplace in workplaces because of coronavirus, this is a risk employers and occupational health need to be aware of and assessing, it has warned.

A trainer for the company pointed to a recent case of an employee who had used alcohol gel and then been unlucky enough to come into contact with a static spark, which ignited the gel and gave them second-degree burns on their hands.

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