When you think about “occupational injuries,” you probably think mostly about broken bones, injured backs and damaged hands. You probably don’t think about dermatological injuries — even though they’re very common.
According to the National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health (NIOSH), more than 13 million workers are exposed to chemicals that can potentially damage their skin or be absorbed into their bodies at a toxic level. This includes workers in agriculture, lawn care, food service, cosmetology and health care.
Occupational skin diseases tend to take several different forms. They can include:
- Contact rashes: Some chemicals have an almost immediate negative effect on human skin. Workers who spill a caustic chemical on their arm, for example, may experience painful rashes that blister and itch. Depending on the size and severity of the rash, the condition can range from merely irritating to life-threatening.
- Infections: Your skin is your primary barrier against disease — particularly infection. Anything that damages your skin reduces your resistance to disease. What may have started as dermatitis after touching an irritant can turn into something dangerous.
- Skin cancer: Some chemicals are so dangerous that repeated exposure can lead to long-term health problems, including skin cancer.
In general, employers are encouraged to reduce their dependence on dangerous chemicals by using less harmful substitutions whenever possible. Employees should be urged to wear personal protective equipment and be care about exposing their skin to harsh substances.
Nonetheless, accidents do happen. If you’ve suffered a skin injury due to a workplace chemical, find out what it takes to get your workers’ compensation claim approved.