Occupational Dermatitis and skin surveillance

Occupational Dermatitis The Facts 

Posted By Kerry Budworth on 2016-03-09 11:48

What About Occupational Dermatitis?

According to the HSE, occupational dermatitis is one of the most widespread causes of ill health and affects workers across different industries, including food processing and especially catering. The also say that nationally across all industries, an estimated 84,000 people have dermatitis caused or made worse by their work. The food and catering industries account for about 10% of this figure though, so it appears important that all industries should consider the problem of occupational dermatitis. Industries with a particular risk of occupational dermatitis are 

  • Catering
  • Food
  • Hairdressing
  • Metal Machining
  • Health Services
  • Printing 
  • Construction
  • Dentistry

The facts & figures

According to the HSE, occupational dermatitis accounts for:

  • 10% of compensation cases under the Department of Work and Pensions Industrial Injuries Scheme, and
  • 13% of cases of occupational diseases reported to HSE under RIDDOR

Those are quite significant figures for a problem that can be avoided in many cases. So let's look a little deeper into the causes of and preventative measures pertaining to the problem. 

Causes of occupational dermatitis

While the causes of dermatitis differ across industries, the overall cause is an exposure of a workers skin (usually the hands) to some substance during their working duties. 

Water, soaps and detergents

 Prolonged exposure to water, soaps and detergents is one of the biggest causes of dermatitis cases In particular the catering and food industry. Prolonged contact with water, soaps and detergents causes about 55% of dermatitis cases. 


About 40% of dermatitis cases in the food industry are caused by contact with foods. Interestingly enough, a wide variety of foods have been shown to cause dermatitis including sugar, flour/dough, fruits (especially citrus fruits), vegetables, spices, fish and meats for differing underlying reasons. 

Other causes

Contact dermatitis may also be caused by contact with other items including coins, latex gloves, chemicals and cleaners and even some alcohol-based hand sanitisers.

Managing prevention

Occupational dermatitis can be prevented by following some simple precautions and is more easily and cheaply prevented than cured. So what do you need to do?

Find out if there is a problem

Initially undertake a risk assessment asking yourself these questions:

  • Do your employees come into contact with agents which could cause dermatitis?
  • Do you have sickness absence due to skin problems

Decide what to do

Having investigated and found that there is a problem, you need to take the next steps:

  • Identify what the cause of the problem and how many employees are affected?
  • Consider if the cause of the problem be removed or substituted?
  • Investigate if contact with the cause can be prevented in other ways such as wearing appropriate gloves.
  • Consider providing an after-work moisturising cream to replace lost natural skin oils
  • Consider other measures, such as job rotation

Training and education of your employees

An important part of any preventative measures is the training and education of your employees in order that they can protect their own health. Training and education topics can include:

  • the causes of contact dermatitis
  • how to minimise the risks
  • how to recognise symptoms
  • the importance of reporting symptoms immediately


When you have put in place your preventative measures, it is important that you mionitor them to ensure they are working.  Consider the need to for skin health surveillance to monitor any symptoms of dermatitis.

Skin assessment in the workplace

As part of the health surveillance services we offer across the UK, we can provide skin assessment in the workplace as part of an overall occupational dermatitis health surveillance programme. If you have any questions about skin health surveillance or any health surveillance services in Leicester or across the UK, don't hesitate to call us on 01455 234 600 or contact us online.