How to Ensure Your Workforce Have Healthy Hands
Hands are an instrumental tool in most occupations, and whilst workplaces do their best to keep employees protected, more can and needs to be done. In food industry occupations in particular, hands are routinely surrounded by a variety of irritant and allergen substances which can aggravate the skin.
Understanding the Risks That Hands Face in the Workplace
Substances in food manufacturing environments can have a varying effect on employees’ skin. What may provoke a skin irritation for one person’s skin may have no effect on another. Both employers and employees must take immediate steps if and when skin irritation occurs, as this can quickly escalate into an occupational skin disease. In food manufacturing environments, occupational dermatitis is one of the most prevalent work-related illnesses.
Currently in the UK, 84,000 people are suffering from occupational dermatitis, which can be triggered immediately after contact with an irritant, or after a sustained period. Employees should consult their employer if their hands begin to swell, blister, feel itchy or particularly dry, or if they appear redder in colour.
Contracting an occupational skin disease such as dermatitis impacts employee morale and can lead to employees changing career. Consequently, employers are likely to have to cope with an increase in absenteeism and a dip in work productivity. Unsurprisingly, the occurrence rate of occupational dermatitis is particularly high in food manufacturing workplaces - it accounts for 10% of all cases .
How Can Workplaces Tackle These Issues?
Workplaces must eradicate the risk of occupational skin diseases – and educating employees should be the first port of call. Providing information on the symptoms (as seen above) will mean that they can identify when the skin irritation is occurring, and if any particular substance is exacerbating the problem.
Personal protective equipment such as gloves can help protect employees’ skin. However, the trapping of sweat within the gloves can cause its own problems, as this can lead to the dampening and softening of the skin – precursors of an occupational skin disease. However, changing gloves regularly can ease this occurrence.
Another significant and innovative prevention solution for food manufacturers is the application of pre-work protection creams as part of an integrated skin care program. These products can be applied before work and after hand-washing to help prevent allergens and irritants from being absorbed into the skin, consequently protecting the hands.
Proactive Employers Required
Occupational skin diseases can only be minimised in the workplace if employers are proactive in providing training and first-class products. Health and safety managers must ensure that products are placed in critical and accessible locations in the workplace, such as washrooms, changing rooms and entrance points to work areas. In doing so, this will facilitate a workplace that is healthier, happier and more productive.
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