Preventive measures and management
Prevention is the best tool to avoid work-related skin diseases. Thus the main focus when planning and implementing safety measures must be to reduce or avoid any hazardous exposure. In the first place, exposure should be controlled or avoided by substituting hazardous substances whenever possible. Using gloves is also important when it comes to avoiding skin exposure.
There are a wide range of glove types to choose from. Selection of glove type and material must be based on the type of exposure and nature of the hazard.
Different kinds of gloves are designed to give protection against different hazards:
- Chemical (toxic, irritating)
- Physical (rough or sharp-edged objects, high/low temperature)
- Biological (infectious material)
- Combinations of hazards
The use of gloves is not a safe way to avoid exposure completely, but correct use of the appropriate glove type for a given task will reduce the exposure. Gloves are made from many different materials, including leather, latex (natural rubber), nitrile, neoprene, butyl rubber, polyvinylchloride (PVC), polyvinylalcohol (PVA), multilayer laminate etc. It is essential to keep in mind that no single material will protect against all chemicals. The gloves must protect the worker’s skin from the hazards of a specific job and adequately meet the specific tasks involved in the job. Gloves that are unsuitable for the task, can, on the contrary, result in high exposure through absorption and occlusion. This is additionally problematic as they can give workers a false sense of protection. You should also make sure that that the gloves are long enough to cover all exposed skin. If the gloves do not adequately meet the specific tasks involved in the job, the workers might not use them because the gloves may impair their fine motoric skills. Careful risk assessment of both work place exposures and types of tasks is therefore of utmost importance to decide what kind of gloves that are proper for each situation. While selecting the correct gloves, you also have to bear in mind that some materials, such as latex and different rubber additives, may cause allergic reactions in some workers.
When handling organic solvents, leather gloves will not protect the skin against exposure. Information about suitable glove material can be found in the product’s safety data sheet (SDS).
© G. Tjalvin
These gloves might be suitable for the task, but it impossible to decide from a photo because glove colours and appearances vary from one glove manufacturer to another. Always read the glove manufacturer’s declaration to decide which gloves are suitable.
© G. Tjalvin
Some basic skin care principles at the workplace
- Remove any rings
- When exposed to the hazards of a specific job, use the appropriate type of gloves
- Use thin cotton gloves underneath protective gloves
- Use lukewarm water for washing the hands
- Substitute abrasive or irritating cleansers with milder, non-perfumed soaps
- Use emollient hand creams after each hand washing and after repeated exposure to irritants, to maintain the natural barrier of the skin
- Protect hands at home
Management of allergic and irritant contact eczema
It is generally accepted that workers who have allergic contact eczema should avoid persistent exposure to the causal agent in order to prevent the eczema from worsening. Even a very low exposure to the sensitizing agent, can result in a severe eczema outbreak. Allergic contact eczema is a lifelong condition.
For irritant contact eczema, in contrast, a reduction of exposure to irritating agents as well as to the amount of wet work might lead to improvement or even resolution of the eczema.
© University of Bergen/Author: G. Tjalvin.