Studies have shown that an estimated 13 million workers across the United States are at risk of chemical exposure through the skin. In fact, occupational skin diseases rank second among the most common types of occupational diseases that workers suffer.
Those who are at the highest risk include people working in construction, health care and agriculture. Individuals who work in the food service industry, automobile repair and maintenance, and even cosmetology also have a high rate of occupational skin diseases.
Exposure to dangerous materials can cause a wide variety of illnesses and disorders from the most basic skin diseases to total systemic toxicity. Unfortunately, the majority of risk reduction strategies that industries have used to limit exposure to toxic materials have focused on inhalation. This means that the prevention measures concerning contact with the skin are more limited than they should be.
What you should know
Occupational skin diseases come in various forms. They can be as simple as a rash that clears up with medication or as serious as skin cancer. One of the most common occupational skin diseases is contact dermatitis, or eczema. In cases such as this the skin can become itchy, red and painful to the touch. Other symptoms of eczema include blisters and swelling.
In many cases occupational skin diseases occur due to direct contact with a toxic substance that results in a chemical reaction on the skin. In other cases, a worker can develop an allergic reaction over time due to continued exposure to a substance. Contact can occur secondhand, such as touching a surface that is contaminated, or directly through immersion, splashes and inhalation.
If you work in and around toxic substances or chemicals, there are some steps you can take to reduce your chances of exposure. For example, you may be able to find a substitute chemical that will cause a less severe reaction if contact occurs. Another option is to change the work process in order to reduce the chances of direct contact through splashes or immersion. If neither one of these is possible, be sure to always wear protective clothing, gloves and goggles when you expect to work with chemicals.
If you have suffered exposure to toxic substances or chemicals at work, you might be able to file a workers' compensation claim. If you qualify for benefits, you could receive medical care and reimbursement for lost wages.