HSE International ISSUE 109 - Page 42

HEALTH & WELLBEING: DEB MY HANDS MATTER Speaking Out about Occupational Skin Disorders (OSDs). P aul Jakeway, Marketing Director at skin care expert Deb, highlights the risks that employees face at work each day by understanding the experiences of industrial workers, and explains why encouraging them to speak out about the health of their skin is critical. OSDs are the second most common work-related health problem in Europe1, with up to 40% of workers suffering from a skin issue at some point in their working life2. But there is often a lack of dialogue on the issue of occupational skin health. In fact, the problem is worse than you might think — it is possible that the incidence of OSDs may be underestimated by 10 to 50 times 3 . And this can only be changed by helping employees to speak out about their skin health. This often invisible topic needs to be made visible. It is critical that workers share their perspectives with Health & Safety Managers so that its importance can be realised, and that’s why we talked to a range of employees from different professions to understand their experiences with skin health and OSDs. Skin health matters – don’t leave it too late Many workers fail to realise that skin health is important until it is too late. But that is changing slowly, as Lee, a 27-year-old bricklayer, knows from the poor health of his father’s hands. “When your hands are sore or cracked, you can’t grip as tight because that’s when the most pain comes,” Lee says. “If you haven’t looked after your hands anyway, you just dread the day ahead to be fair. Creams are available onsite, but not many people use them. They’re more of an afterthought.” 42 HSE INTERNATIONAL “It is not until later in life that you find out how detrimental a work-related skin problem can be,” he explains. “I definitely wouldn’t want my children to have the same type of hands as what my father has. Improving our skin health at an earlier age is massively important.” Avoiding the consequences of OSDs Employees often overlook the longer-term consequences of poor skin health. And this ties into the issue of workers ignoring the skin care provisions available to them in the workplace. Geoff, a 65-year-old printer, knows more than most about the effect OSDs can have on workers when this happens. “Working in a packaging factory, we print around 20,000 boxes a day,” says Geoff. “I have heard of people suffering from skin problems at work due to working with chemicals — especially oils. There are a lot of risks.” “I should use moisturising creams,” he continues. “I don’t because I find them very difficult. They take a long time to be absorbed into the skin, and they leave your fingers greasy.” Geoff is quite clear on the impact OSDs can have on workers, involving “time off work and loss of earnings, so that affects the families of the workers. It can affect you mentally, as well. I’ve seen some skin disorders where your hands crack and it’s seriously demoralising. It was so severe they couldn’t grip. Not being able to make a cup of tea, not being able to hold a knife and fork properly — all these things affect the mental state of someone.”