Work-related dermatitis is a painful skin disease that affects thousands of employees in the food and catering sectors every year. It can be severe enough to keep you off work or even force you to change jobs…
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Work-related dermatitis is a painful skin disease that affects thousands of employees in the food and catering sectors every year. It can be severe enough to keep you off work or even force you to change jobs.
What is work-related dermatitis?
Work-related contact dermatitis is an inflammatory skin disease caused by work and develops when the skin’s barrier layer is damaged. Typical signs of dermatitis include redness, itching, swelling, blistering, flaking and cracking. The most common part of body affected is the hands and accounts for almost 75% of all cases reported.
There are two main types of work-related contact dermatitis, irritant contact dermatitis and allergic contact dermatitis:
- Irritant contact dermatitis is caused by prolonged or short term exposure to hazardous agents. These agents strip the skin of its natural protective barrier, allowing an irritant substance to penetrate the skin.
- Allergic contact dermatitis is caused by an immunological response to a particular allergen. Nickel allergy is the most common form of allergic contact dermatitis in food handlers and others. Nickel can be found in coins, certain types of food (e.g. flour, citrus fruits, meats, etc.) and cooking equipment.
Why is it a problem?
Work-related contact dermatitis is one of the main causes of ill health for catering staff and accounts for over 13% of occupational diseases reported to HSE under RIDDOR. The number of newly reported cases in the food and catering sectors are twice the national average. Many live with pain and discomfort because of it and some have had to give up work. It also results in millions of pounds being paid out to victims in compensation and other costs.
Hand hygiene is important for food safety. Dermatitis causes sore hands and workers may not wash them thoroughly or as often because it hurts. Research has also shown harmful bacteria can remain in the cracks of skin even after handwashing.
What causes it in catering?
In the catering and food occupations, prolonged contact with water, soaps and detergents causes about 55% of dermatitis cases. About 40% of dermatitis cases in the industry are caused by contact with foods. A wide variety of foods have been shown to cause dermatitis including sugar, flour/dough, fruits (especially citrus fruits), vegetables, spices, fish and meats. Other causes include contact with coins, rubber/latex gloves and some alcohol-based hand sanitisers/rubs.
Almost all workers in wet-working jobs develop some degree of dermatitis. Wet work generally describes prolonged or frequent skin contact with water, usually for two or more hours a day or more than 20 hand washes. Other wet work tasks include washing up, washing food, general cleaning, or preparing/processing wet foods.
How can I prevent it?
The good news is that it’s easy to prevent work-related contact dermatitis, especially if you have a robust food safety culture in place. The simplest way to prevent dermatitis is to follow the APC approach:
- Avoid contact with cleaning products, food and water where possible, e.g. use a dishwasher rather than washing up by hand, and use utensils rather than hands to handle food.
- Protect your skin. Where you can, wear non-latex gloves when working with substances that can cause dermatitis and moisturise your hands to replenish the skin’s natural oils.
- Check your hands regularly for the early stages of dermatitis, i.e. itchy, dry or red skin. These symptoms should be reported to a supervisor, as treatment is much more effective if dermatitis is caught early.
Would you like to know more?
The HSE have further information and guidance to help you prevent work-related contact dermatitis in the catering and food industries sectors. This information can be found on the HSE website.
Work-related contact dermatitis is covered on all health and safety courses. We also specialise in tailoring our training programmes to the environments in which the candidates work, especially within the catering and hospitality industry.
Call Leon Lemon on 01252 728300 to find out how STS can help you maximise the benefits in training your team.