Thousands of people are working in harsh conditions where they have to constantly get their hands dirty and use allergenic substances that damage the skin of their hands. Over months and years, people simply get used to living with such dry, irritated and damaged hands which not only slows down their productivity at work but deteriorate their health over time. And frankly, this is NOT normal. Damaged, irritated and inflamed skin is symptoms of an illness called occupational dermatitis.
Occupational or contact Dermatitis can be defined as tenderness of the skin caused by the laborious working environment or by coming in contact with allergenic substances. It is also called as an industrial disease.
The symptoms and seriousness of the condition differ widely. Symptoms usually begin with redness and irritation, and seldom, swelling. Skin eruptions may follow and, if these break, the skin may become infected.
Contact with injurious substances can cause small areas of the skin to thicken, eventually forming coarse wart-like growths which may become cancerous.
Causes of occupational dermatitis
The most common causes of developing occupation dermatitis are:
- Allergic contact dermatitis.
- Irritant contact dermatitis.
- Working environment.
Allergic contact dermatitis occurs when a worker comes in contact with a substance he is allergic to and it triggers an immune reaction in him. However, workers or technicians don’t develop an allergy to a substance in the initial contact. It gradually happens over months or years when technicians become oversensitive or allergic to the material they are working with. Once the individual becomes sensitized, each time he comes into contact with the sensitizing substance, even in very small amounts, dermatitis will develop. Allergic contact dermatitis often leads to poor quality of life of the workers with a substantial financial loss. Common substances that have known to cause an allergic reaction in workers are:
- Acrylic in adhesives
- Epoxy resins
- Hair dyes
- Nail varnish resins
- Plastic resins
- Wood dust
Irritant contact dermatitis occurs when the substance the worker is working with damages the skin of hand irrespective of him being allergic to the substance or not. A highly irritant substance is known as corrosive and it comprises of 80% of contact dermatitis that occurs in laborers and technicians. Although this dermatitis can be cured effectively, the repeated exposure of irritants over months and years may cause long term damage to the skin. Common irritants that destroy the outer membrane of the skin include:
- Acids and alkalis
- Cement (wet)
- Machine oil
- Petroleum products
- Reducing agents
In addition to substances that cause significant damage to the skin, the working environment of technicians and workers can also affect skin conditions. Temperature, humidity, and wind are all elements which, in more adverse conditions, can affect the skin’s ability to protect itself.
Facts about occupational dermatitis in India
- Occupational dermatitis is hazardous for people working in Automobile, manufacturing, railway, construction and food industry.
- Cement is one of the most important causes of occupational dermatitis in construction workers.
- The reported prevalence of allergic contact dermatitis to chromate among the workers is usually more than 10%
- In a study, it was revealed that hand dermatitis predominated with the involvement of more than 73.7% of the workers in contrast to 11.6% with facial dermatitis and 6.9% with leg dermatitis
- Allergic contact dermatitis from the substances used in workplace leads to lots of wage loss due to absenteeism.
- In India, occupational allergic contact dermatitis was found to be more common than occupational irritant contact dermatitis
- It has been estimated that 50% of the automobile sector is unorganized in India. Allergic or irritant dermatitis may develop depending on the type of work that workers are involved in.
- In a survey of 106 automobile repair workers in Vellore, India, 11 (10.6%) were found to have features of contact dermatitis. Allergens to which these workers are commonly exposed are chromium, cobalt, nickel, epoxy resins and rubber allergens while cutting oil is the major irritant incriminated.
Although contact dermatitis is not contagious, but if left untreated can spread to other parts of the body. This is a sub-clinical disease where symptoms are not always visible even if damage to the skin is there. Eventually, occupational dermatitis will resurface with the cracks, breaks, dry skin, rashes, and pain. If repeated irritant contact dermatitis goes untreated, the skin can become a chronic dermatitis problem.
The best way to prevent occupational irritant contact dermatitis is to maintain healthy skin. Of course, personal protective equipment is important but preserving the health of your skin provides a barrier that helps to protect the body against incidental exposure to the irritant.
When workers are working with grease, soil and irritant substances day in and day out, they need to use hand cleaners and conditioners made for the grease and grit they encounter on the job. It is necessary for workers to use a good quality hand cleaner that will protect their hands from dehydration and unwanted infections.
Gojo hand cleaners such as GOJO Orange Gel Pumice Hand Cleaner, GOJO Original Formula, Hand Cleaner, GOJO Supro Max Hand Cleaner and other GOJO Hand Cleaners are specially formulated for the tough soils in workshops and garages, yet is relatively mild on the skin. Gojo hand cleaners are formulated to easily remove heavy dirt, grease, and oil, and are pH balanced to promote healthy skin. The hand cleaners are naturally made and free from chemicals and nonylphenol ethoxylates that can strip natural oils from the skin and cause irritation.
Besides ensuring proper handwashing to remove dirt, grease and grime workers also need to frequently moisturize and condition their hands to add a double layer of protection. Gojo professional hand conditioners such as Gojo hand medic have been specially formulated to help technicians recover from the abuse their hands take each day. The conditioners not just prevent contact dermatitis but also cure it. It is recommended that workers use the Gojo hand conditioner 3 times a day (before work, during work, and after work) to ensure maximum protection for their hands.
To conclude workers and technicians need to be more aware of their health and skin problems and take timely precautions such as proper hand-washing and hand moisturizing to ensure that contact dermatitis doesn’t affect their productivity at work or their life.