Whether their work is on factory floors, automotive shops or in outdoor environments, employees encounter tough soils and skin irritants. Dirt, grit, irritants and harsh chemicals combine with heat, cold and other environmental factors to create the perfect storm for occupational skin diseases.
A skin inflammation resulting from exposure to irritants or allergens, contact dermatitis can range from a slight reddening and itching to rashes and sores. Contact dermatitis annually costs employers billions of dollars. Ongoing medical care associated with the disease adds up to more than $1.4 billion, according to a study for The Society for Investigative Dermatology and The Academy of Dermatology Association1. The study also showed contact dermatitis costs another $500 million in productivity losses.
Dr. Arbogast, vice president of skin care science and product development for GOJO, said those who work in tough soils conditions can tilt the scales back in their favor in the battle against occupational skin disease.
“The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention estimate that more than 13 million U.S. workers are potentially exposed to chemicals and other irritants that absorb through the skin,” Dr. Arbogast said. “These agents can cause a variety of occupational skin diseases, including contact dermatitis and system toxicity.”
The National Occupational Research Agenda reported that once workers acquire contact dermatitis, an estimated 75 percent of the cases become chronic, requiring ongoing medical care and affecting workers’ well-being. It is important, therefore, to reduce exposure to common irritants, use products designed to clean and condition tough-soiled hands and following a healthy skin washing and skin care regimen.
Dr. Arbogast said the first line of defense is to become more aware of the hazards:
· Chemical Irritants — Metalworking fluids, lubricants, oils, greases, solvents, paints, fiberglass, acids and even poorly formulated hand cleansers that include surfactants.
· Mechanical Abrasion — Machining, milling, sanding, and grinding generate metal chips that are rough on the fingertips and tend to abrade the skin, causing irritation.
· Physical Agents — Repeated exposure to heat, cold, water and friction.
· Biological and Microbiological Agents — Transmission by hand of germs that may cause illness.
“When dealing with tough soils day in and day out, workers need to use hand cleaners and conditioners made for the grease and grit they encounter on the job,” Dr. Arbogast said. “Quality hand-cleaning products are your main protection against skin dehydration and potential infection.”
He recommends selecting a hand cleaner that is formulated to easily remove heavy dirt, grease and oil and is pH balanced to promote skin health. He also recommends avoiding products with volatile organic compounds and nonylphenol ethoxylates since they can be a regulatory and sustainability concern. They also can strip skin of its natural moisture and cause irritation.
Dr. Arbogast said proper hand washing and moisturizing helps maintain good skin condition, which 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 is specially formulated for the tough soils in shops and garages, yet is relatively mild on skin.
Another important step is adding a formulated lotion to your hand-care routine. Choose a hand lotion or conditioner like GOJO® HAND MEDIC that is specially 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’s best to apply a moisturizer at least three times a day when there is time for it to fully absorb.
In summary, Dr. Arbogast said, “Be aware of what causes damage, take precautions to minimize exposure, use proper hand-cleansing products and practice healthy skin care methods.”
1 2005 study by the Lewin Group for The Society for Investigative Dermatology and The Academy of Dermatology Association.
GOJO Industries, Inc., inventors of PURELL® Instant Hand Sanitizer, distributes PURELL hand sanitizer in consumer and away-from-home markets throughout the world. In addition, GOJO manufactures and distributes a full line of products under GOJO® and PROVON® brand names. GOJO has a 64-year history of leadership in improving well-being through hand hygiene and healthy skin. GOJO has products and programs to kill germs on hands and solve skin care-related problems in a variety of markets, including healthcare, foodservice, food processing, manufacturing, automotive, education, government and military. GOJO is a privately held corporation headquartered in Akron, Ohio, with offices in the United Kingdom, France, Australasia, Japan and Brazil. Visit GOJO at gojo.com.