One of the main health and safety risks to cleaning staff is dermatitis. Dermatitis is an inflammation of the skin and is sometimes called eczema. The main symptoms include itching, cracking, blistering and ulceration. The skin often looks red, sore and scaly. There are many different types of dermatitis, but one of the main causes of the illness is contact with substances at work.
There are two main types of dermatitis that can be caused by substances at work.
The first is called irritant contact dermatitis. The condition arises from working with substances that physically damage the skin when they come into contact with it. For example, acids and alkalis such as caustic soda, and organic solvents such as white spirit and alcohol.
Organic solvents can dissolve the skin’s protective layer of oils, leaving it dry, cracked and vulnerable. Some strong irritants can cause immediate damage, resulting in serious skin burns. Many weaker substances may have an effect after days of contact.
Certain chemicals known as sensitisers cause the second type of dermatitis, allergic contact dermatitis. This is where the body’s immune system reacts to a substance. Once a person becomes sensitised, a minute exposure may cause a severe reaction.
Cleaners are more likely to develop dermatitis because of the substances they work with. For example, detergents, soaps, caustic soda, disinfectants, bleaches, cleaning fluids and ammonia are all likely to cause dermatitis, as can rubber and latex gloves. Wetwork also encourages dermatitis to develop.
The risk of dermatitis must be considered when the COSHH assessment is carried out.