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Stopping work-related skin disease - It's in your hands

Published 31st July, 2013 by Neil Nixon

Stopping work-related skin disease - It's in your hands

The 'It's in your hands' campaign was launched in 2006 by the Health and Safety Executive (HSE), the British Safety Industry Federation (BSIF), Safety Groups UK (SG UK), the British Occupational Hygiene Society (BOHS), the Institute of Occupational Medicine (IOM) and the Trades Union Congress (TUC) with the aim of significantly reducing the incidence of work-related dermatitis.

Seven years after the campaign was initially launched, HSE statistics show that the incidence of work-related dermatitis is indeed reducing, although there are still approximately 40,000 new diagnoses of work-related skin disease per year and it is still believed that this is the tip of the iceberg with many cases still going unreported.

So what can be done to raise the awareness of work-related skin disease and, more importantly, what can be done to prevent further incidences?

A new initiative, Health Risks at Work (HRAW), aims to raise awareness of major occupational health issues. Details can be found at: HRAW has identified the skin as being one of five areas of focus for improving awareness and education of health risks at work.

David Lummis, BSIF's chief executive, said: “To support this initiative, the original document that was used as the main communication vehicle for the 'It's in your hands' campaign has been updated, led by the BSIF and facilitated by skin care specialist Deb, in association with Polyco and the original initiators.

John Cairns, vice chairman of Safety Groups UK, continued: “The 'It's in your hands' campaign complements the Health Risks at Work 'Risks to your skin' section. One of the objectives of Health Risks at Work is to raise awareness of skin risks at work as one of five key health issues in the workplace and the 'It's in your hands' document provides employers and employees with the next level of more detailed information that they need for skin care. This will be of particular use to SMEs as it provides all the information in a clear and simple format.”

Phil Spark, UK marketing director at Deb, said: “We are delighted to have been involved with this project and pleased that we are raising awareness of work-related skin disease. To support the 'Health Risks at Work' campaign, the guide has been developed and expanded to include updated statistics on incidence of skin disease as well as containing advice on how to avoid the risk of skin cancer as well as work related dermatitis. Statistics show that skin cancer is a developing issue - of the 2055 cases reported of work-related skin disease, via physicians and dermatologists under the THOR scheme in 2010, 73% of cases were contact dermatitis and 19% were skin cancer.”

Unfortunately, there are too many individuals that live with the pain, discomfort and suffering bought on by work-related skin disease. The cost implications of this problem can also be significant and are widely accepted to be under reported. Occupational skin problems not only mean personal costs for the employee, but there are compensation costs as well as disruption costs to businesses such as lost productivity through employee absence from work, reduced employee efficiency and poor staff morale, together with the potential damage caused to both an organisation and its reputation through negative publicity.

However, research shows that the majority of work-related skin disease cases are preventable by adopting steps to manage risks in the workplace, along with applying simple exposure reduction methods, including the provision of effective skin care. As such, the 'It's in your hands' guide has been developed to reflect this and is now a comprehensive reference document that details the risks relating to work-related skin disease and what can be done to prevent such incidences.

In addition to the revised guide, a campaign poster has also been developed to highlight the risks of skin disease and shows the four simple steps of how to avoid these risks, ie: safe working distance, avoid skin contact, protect the skin, and check skin regularly.

David Lummis concluded: “The revised guide is now a comprehensive document. It was recently presented to the All Party Group on Occupational Health and Safety in Parliament and was well received. In developing the guide to include 'Skin Care Consideration by Work Area', we are able to use the document to highlight that risks to health can be managed and ill health prevented, if every business takes some simple steps to identify sources of harm and to put in place measures to manage them. As well as ensuring that your employees have access to appropriate PPE and skin care, I urge you to share the content of this guide with all of your employees so that everyone is aware of the risks to skin in your workplace.”

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