TUC slams employers lack of concern over workers’ skin rashes from handling harmful substances

TUC general secretary Brendan Barber has slammed employers’ “shameful” lack of concern for the safety of their employees, following new government advice that thousands of workers are still affected by a painful rash caused by coming into contact with harmful substances at work.

Employees in healthcare, hairdressing, printing, cleaning, construction and catering are all suffering from dermatitis, as a result of their work, the Health and Safety Executive (HSE) has warned.

Barber said employers and government should be doing more to prevent the condition that has been around for years.

He told Personnel Today: “The UK’s enforcement authorities must to do more to tackle this shameful lack of concern for employees’ health and safety.

“The continued high incidence of dermatitis and other painful skin conditions is mainly down to a lack of safety awareness in many of the UK’s small firms. The owners of small companies are often quite ignorant of the effects that the daily use of certain chemicals at work can have on individual employees.

Part of the problem is that the turnover of staff can be quite high, and sadly many employers are apt to see their employees as a somewhat disposable commodity.”

HSE principal inspector Bob Rajan said: “Many thousands of workers suffer from dermatitis at work. In many cases they suffer pain and sometimes people lose their jobs because they can no longer work.

“The costs to industry run into millions of pounds paid out in compensation and lost through sickness, absence and the cost of retraining. One company where at least three employees suffered from dermatitis as a result of contact with chemicals at work was recently ordered to pay a total of £130,000 in fines and costs.”

Rajan added: “It is possible to prevent dermatitis; people do not contract it unless they come into contact with substances that cause it. Everyone can take preventative measures to avoid the disease by protecting the skin. Regular skin checks can spot the early stages of dermatitis and prevent it developing more seriously.

Employers are required by law to control exposure to materials in the workplace that cause dermatitis. They must assess risks, implement adequate control measures, provide information, and instruction and training where appropriate, health surveillance for workers.

Seminars are being run across the country to educate employers on the prevention of dermatitis.

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