Occupational skin disease may be even more prevalent than previously believed, according to new research from the HSE, and many employers are failing to take adequate measures to protect their staff, by Eliza O'Driscoll
About four million working days are lost in the UK each year because of skin disease, with an annual cost to industry of hundreds of millions of pounds, according to the Health and Safety Executive.1 And a recent piece of research commissioned by the HSE on occupational dermatitis in the printing industry showed that nearly half of all printers had suffered from dermatitis at one stage or other.2
The main aims of the study were to investigate the prevalence of dermatitis in a sample of people working in the printing industry and to assess how much current dermatitis might be occupationally related. The findings are very much higher than current UK surveillance schemes which monitor occupational health disease. A total of 58 per cent of the skin problems diagnosed were thought to be occupationally related, and three-quarters of those reporting a problem said that it cleared up when they were away from work.
The findings of the report have serious implications for other industry sectors which are known to be at a greater- than-average risk of occupational skin disease. Industries and occupational groups identified by the HSE as being at particular risk of work-related skin diseases are: catering and food processing, engineering, agriculture, hairdressing, cleaning, printing, health care, construction, rubber manufacturing/processing and offshore industries.3
The duties of employers to safeguard the health of employees are clearly set out in the Control of Substances Hazardous to Health Regulations 1988 .
Regulation 7(1) states:
Every employer shall ensure that the exposure of his employees to substances hazardous to health is either prevented or, where this is not practicable, adequately controlled.
Regulation 7(2) states:
So far as is reasonably practicable, the prevention or adequate control of exposure of employees to a substance hazardous to health shall be prevented by means other than the provision of personal protective equipment.
So the employer is required to ensure that the exposure of employees to hazardous substances is either prevented or adequately controlled.
If it is reaso