What is occupational dermatitis?

Occupational dermatitis is the name given to the common skin condition dermatitis when it is caused or made worse by a person’s work environment. Dermatitis is a condition with which a person’s skin becomes inflamed, and often occurs after contact with certain substances.

It can be a painful condition and can make day to day tasks more difficult for anyone who suffers from it. It can also make some people feel embarrassed because of its red, rash-like appearance.

Dermatitis is not contagious, so it cannot be spread from one person to another. The condition is most commonly found on a person’s hands because this is the part of the body that is most likely to come into contact with triggering substances. Saying that, it is possible for occupational dermatitis to develop in any area of skin that is frequently in contact with these substances.

Causes of occupational dermatitis

Substances that cause or trigger dermatitis are referred to as ‘causative agents. They tend to aggravate a person’s skin, making it feel itchy and irritated. Although the list of causative agents is constantly expanding, flours, cements, paints, glues and bleaches are the most common.

Because of this, people who work around these substances frequently are obviously more likely to develop or trigger occupational dermatitis. Job roles or industries that use these common causative agents regularly might include:

  • Bakers and confectioners
  • Plasterers
  • Ground workers
  • Construction engineers
  • General labourers
  • Painters and decorators
  • Vehicle paint sprayers
  • Cleaners
  • Textile workers
  • Hospitality workers, including kitchen staff
  • Hairdressers
  • Healthcare workers

This is just a short list of examples, and realistically anyone who comes into contact with a causative agent is at risk of developing occupational dermatitis.

Symptoms of occupational dermatitis

The symptoms of dermatitis are the same as occupational dermatitis, except with the latter you may notice that your symptoms worsen or flare up when you’re at work or after work.

The most common symptoms include itchiness, rashes, redness, skin cracking and blotchiness. These symptoms may come and go, and you could suffer from all or just one of them. However occupational dermatitis presents itself on your skin, you should definitely consider taking a trip to your GP to get a diagnosis and possible treatments such as creams or ointments which can soothe your symptoms.

Your GP will also more than likely be able to establish how likely it is that your condition has developed as a result of exposure to a trigger at work. If they determine that it is probable that your work environment is to blame for your condition, you may be able to make a legal claim against your employer for failing to protect you.

Do employers have a responsibility to prevent occupational dermatitis from developing?

Dermatitis can develop due to contact with substances outside of work, but if it’s caused by exposure to triggers at work, your employer should be doing something about it. They are legally obliged to protect your health and safety to begin with, which means that they have to provide you with protective equipment if you are going to be exposed to dermatitis triggers on a regular basis. This might include gloves or long-sleeved shirts.

Employers can also protect their staff by finding alternatives which won’t cause dermatitis where possible. For example, certain cleaning products are harsher than others, so if possible, employers should make the effort to use products that are kinder to human skin as an attempt to prevent occupational dermatitis from developing.

Employers also have a duty to carry out regular risk assessments and to act upon any risks that they find. If they fail to provide adequate protective equipment or clothing, carry out risk assessments or act upon risks they find, they can be held responsible for their employees’ suffering. Employees could even pursue a legal claim and get compensated for the physical pain, psychological distress and financial losses they have experienced as a result of their employer’s neglectful attitude.

If you are suffering from occupational dermatitis which has been caused within the last 3 years you may be able to make an industrial disease compensation claim.