Help your technicians maintain healthy hands on the job

Technicians come in contact with a variety of skin irritants on a daily basis when working on fleet vehicles. Their hard-working hands are routinely exposed to harsh chemicals and mechanical irritants, as well as extreme environmental conditions that come with the job. It is exposure to these elements that can result in occupational skin disease.

It’s estimated by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (www.cdc.gov) that more than 13 million U.S. workers are potentially exposed to chemicals and other irritants that absorb through the skin. These agents can cause a variety of occupational skin diseases, including contact dermatitis and system toxicity.

SKIN INFLAMMATION

Contact dermatitis is skin inflammation that results from exposure to irritants or allergens. The condition can vary from slight reddening and itching to irritating rashes and weeping, discharging sores. The disease costs employers billions of dollars each year in medical care and productivity losses.

The National Occupational Research Agenda (www.cdc.gov/niosh/nora) – a partnership program to stimulate innovative research and improved workplace practices – reported that once workers acquire contact dermatitis, it is estimated that 75 percent of the cases become chronic, requiring ongoing medical care and affecting workers’ well-being.

So, it is important for vehicle technicians to take proper care of their skin by reducing exposure to common irritants, using products designed to clean and condition tough-soiled hands and following a healthy skin washing and skin care regimen. With these key steps in place, technicians will have healthier more comfortable hands, which leads to a better quality of life and improved on-the-job productivity.

BE ALERT TO COMMON HAZARDS

The first line of defense is to become more aware of the hazards that technicians encounter. There are four main skin irritants found in harsh work environments like vehicle repair shops:

Chemical Irritants - This includes metalworking fluids, lubricants, oils, greases, solvents, paints, fiberglass, acids and even poorly-formulated hand cleansers that include surfactants – compounds that lower the surface tension of a liquid.

Mechanical Abrasion - Machining, milling, sanding and grinding generate metal chips that are particularly rough on the fingertips and tend to abrade the skin, causing irritation.

Physical Agents - Repeated exposure to heat, cold, water and friction can really take a toll on the skin.

Biological and Microbiological Agents - This is the transmission by hand of germs that may cause illness.

THE RIGHT HAND-CLEANING PRODUCTS

When dealing with tough soils day in and day out, technicians need to use hand cleaners and conditioners made for the grease and grit they encounter on the job. Quality hand-cleaning products are the technician’s main protection against skin dehydration and potential infection.

Choose a hand cleaner that is formulated to easily remove heavy dirt, grease and oil and is pH balanced to promote skin health. The pH level refers to how acidic or alkaline a solution is.

Leading products for automotive environments include cream and gel formulas with pumice scrubbers. These work to balance cleaning performance with skin conditioning for hands to feel clean and refreshed after washing, with minimal wash time and mechanical friction required.

It’s also best to choose a hand cleaner that is free of Volatile Organic Compounds (VOCs) and Nonylphenol Ethoxylates since these ingredients can be a regulatory and sustainability concern, as well as contribute to stripping the skin of its natural moisture and cause irritation.

If proper hand-cleaning products aren’t readily available, workers tend to develop unhealthy habits. One of which is washing with typical bathroom lotion soaps that can’t fully remove contaminants without extended wash times or use of mechanical aids like brushes. The use of these everyday soaps can contribute to dry, irritated skin that develops usually from over-scrubbing.

Another extremely bad habit is the use of gas, kerosene, turpentine, acetone or benzene to clean hands. These chemicals should be strictly avoided since they strip the skin of the lipids (fatty acids) and natural moisturizers and can cause chronic skin damage that affects how the skin is formed.

Dry, damaged skin that has been stripped of its natural oils and moisture becomes susceptible to contact dermatitis and contaminants entering the blood stream. Damaged skin is more likely to react to irritants than skin that is kept in good condition.

HAND CARE FUNDAMENTALS

Proper washing and moisturizing of the skin helps maintain good skin condition. That, in turn, helps prevent contact dermatitis and other painful conditions.

To encourage healthy habits, workers should have convenient access to hand cleaners formulated for tough soils.

Employers should provide the gentlest hand cleaner that is effective on removing heavy duty grease and grime quickly, easily and completely. Gojo Cherry Gel Pumice Hand Cleaner, by way of example, is specially formulated for the tough soils in shops and garages, yet is relatively mild on skin.

Don’t overlook the need to keep hand cleaner dispensers in good working condition and full of hand cleaner with refills readily available to make it easy for employees to follow proper hand-washing protocols. There are dispensers on the market that use sealed refills to prevent the contamination of the cleanser and also offer portion-control dispensing so excess product isn’t wasted by getting washed down the sink.

Technicians should also get in the habit of washing their hands at regular intervals. Cleaning hands regularly during the day, with extra attention paid to lunch breaks and when leaving at the end of the day, will improve skin health and help cut down on workplace absences.

Another important step is to add a formulated lotion to the hand-care routine, like Gojo Hand Medic. It is formulated to help technicians recover from the abuse their hands take each day and still fit within their normal work flow (i.e., quickly absorbing, not too greasy).

It is best to apply a moisturizer at least three times a day when there is time for it to fully absorb. Applying the product before work, during lunch or an extended break and before bed will go a long way in helping the skin maintain a healthy barrier to workplace toxins and infections.

It should be noted that moisturizers are not an effective barrier to contaminants like solvents, oil and grease. It’s still a good idea to wear gloves when coming into contact with these substances.

WORKPLACE CULTURE

To reinforce healthy hand-washing habits, employers can also take advantage of informational materials provided by leading manufacturers that serve as a reminder to employees on how to maintain healthy hands and serve to reinforce good hand-washing habits with workers.

Daily exposure to these informational materials can help develop a healthier workplace culture.

In the end, keeping hands in top working condition comes down to a few key steps:

  • Be aware of what causes the damage and take precaution to minimize exposure.
  • Use proper hand-cleansing products.
  • Practice healthy skin care methods.

With these practices in place, vehicle technicians can maintain healthy hands and enjoy more confidence on and off the job.

James W. Arbogast, Ph.D., is the vice president of health and hygiene alliances at Gojo Industries (www.gojo.com). The leading global producer and marketer of skin health and hygiene solutions for away-from-home settings, its broad portfolio includes hand cleaning, handwashing, hand sanitizing and skin care formulas. Gojo is known for state-of-the-art dispensing technology, engineered with attention to design and functionality, and has complete programs to promote healthy behaviors for hand hygiene, skin care and, in critical environments, compliance.

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