Protecting Yourself on the Job
You Can Prevent Skin Damage The most common workrelated illnesses are caused by contact between your skin and substances that can damage it. Skin damage can affect both your health and your ability to do your job. But most skin damage can be pre足vented when you take precautions. 2
When Working Around Hazards Every day, many of us work around irritants that can cause skin damage. These irritants are found, for example, in the solvents you clean with, rags you reuse, and chemicals you mix. Unless you take precautions, you could end up with a painful—and serious— skin condition that might last a few days, or many years.
Keep Your Guard Up To guard yourself against irritants, it helps to understand how your skin can and can’t protect you. Wearing personal protective equipment and following safe work habits can help prevent irritants from getting on your skin. And knowing what to do in case exposure does happen can help minimize the damage.
Rash Behavior: Are You Increasing Your Risk? How well are you protecting yourself against skin damage on the job? You can assess your behavior by answering the following questions. YES* NO
Skin Health 1. Do you use solvents to clean your skin? 2. Do you ever forget to use hand cream when your skin is dry and cracked? 3. Do you sometimes skip your daily shower so irritants aren’t washed off regularly?
PPE: Personal Protective Equipment 4. Do you wear personal protective equipment only when your supervisor is around? 5. Do you wear damaged personal protective equipment? 6. Do you wear personal protective equipment that doesn’t fit properly?
When Skin Damage Occurs 7. Do you try to treat skin damage yourself? 8. Do you ignore warning labels that give treatment information? 9. Do you stop your medication as soon as you feel better, instead of completing the full course of treatment?
■ ■ ■ ■
■ ■ ■ ■ ■ ■ ■ ■ ■ ■ ■ ■ ■ ■
* The more times you answered “yes,” the higher your risk of damaging your skin, or of worsening a skin condition you already have.
Quiz Answers: 1. T, 2. F, 3. T, 4. T, 5. F, 6. T, 7. T, 8. T, 9. F, 10. T This booklet is not intended as a substitute for your employer’s health and safety policies or for professional healthcare. ©2008 The StayWell Company, 1100 Grundy Lane, San Bruno, CA 94066-3030. www.krames.com 800-333-3032. All rights reserved. Lithographed in Canada. 3
Skin: Your First Line of Defense Your skin is like a natural coat of armor. Usually, it does a great job of protecting you by keeping whatâ€™s out out and whatâ€™s in in. But the armor can be weakened or destroyed. When that happens, your armor can no longer protect you, and it becomes an open door for irritants.
A Natural Barrier Your skin is made up of three layers. Each layer has its own role to play in defending you against irritants. Because your skin is thinner in some areas than others, it may not protect you as well in certain places. The skin on the back of your hands and around your eyes, for example, is relatively thin and can easily be irritated.
The top layer of skin is made up of substances similar to those that make up your nails and hair. As long as this layer is healthy and prevented from drying out and cracking, it can keep most irritants out.
Growth layer This layer makes the cells that create the top layer. To keep your skin healthy, the top layer replaces itself about once every 30 days.
The third layer contains glands that lubricate the top layer, keeping it moist and healthy. The third layer is also the one that contains blood vessels, nerves, and hair follicles. Beneath the third layer is a layer of fat. This fat insulates and cushions the skin, and helps protect it from injury.
When the Barrier Breaks Down Although your skin provides an effective barrier against most irritants, it isn’t strong enough to handle many of those you may come in contact with at work. Your natural protection can be defeated by irritants that damage or enter the skin through pores or cracks, or by chemicals that break down the protective layer of skin.
Minor Skin Damage In a mild case of skin injury, the top layer becomes damaged. This allows irritants to reach deeper layers, creating symptoms such as redness, swelling, and itching.
Major Skin Damage With more severe irritation, all layers of the skin may be damaged. The skin may thicken, creating a protective “armor.” However, the armor often cracks, leading to further damage.
Internal Damage Irritants and toxins may enter the body through cracked skin, or be absorbed directly through unbroken skin and travel through the “plumbing.” They may poison the liver, kidneys, and bone marrow, and cause damage to the nervous system.
Prevention: Know the Hazards To protect yourself from skin injury, you need to know what you’re up against. Most of the hazards on the job are chemicals that can damage your skin if they come in contact with it, causing a condition known as contact dermatitis. Other hazards, such as vibration, heat, or bacteria, can damage the skin and set the stage for further irritation by chemicals.
Chemical Irritants: The Major Hazards A chemical irritant can be solid, liquid, or gas, and can cause minor to major irritation, depending on the type of chemical and its strength. Irritant contact dermatitis is caused by direct chemical contact with the skin, and may affect anyone. Allergic contact dermatitis only affects people who are allergic to certain substances, and is less common than irritant contact dermatitis. Repeated exposure to a chemical may cause an allergic reaction over time.
Soaps and Detergents Soaps and detergents dissolve fatty materials. They also remove some of the skin’s protective oily coating along with the dirt. Dry, cracked, burning skin
Solvents Many solvents do a good job of attacking fat and grease. Depending on their strength, some solvents can also attack your skin. Painful, red, blistered skin
Acids Acids have many uses. They can rapidly eat through metal and skin, and can damage lungs if you breathe their mists or vapors. Burned, blistered skin
Caustics The “tough guy” of chemicals, caustics can quickly damage whatever they come in contact with— including metal and skin. Burned, blistered skin
Metal Compounds Metal compounds like dichromate, an allergen found in cement and other materials, can cause long-lasting allergic reactions. Red, ulcerated skin
Other Causes of Skin Damage Biological Bacteria, fungi, and viruses can cause infections that damage the skin. Substances in some plants, foods, and medicines can cause rashes and allergies.
Lesion caused by bacteria
Physical Excessive heat or cold can affect the skin by causing heat rash or chapping. This damage opens the door to further irritation.
Rash caused by heat
Mechanical Vibration from using tools like pneumatic drills, or excessive friction, can cause blisters and other skin injuries.
Blisters caused by vibration
Prevention: Wear Protective Equipment Personal protective equipment (PPE) can help you defend yourself against irritants. But there’s more to PPE than just putting it on. There are many kinds of PPE, and your safety department or supervisor can help you get—and teach you how to use—the right equipment for the job. First, identify the hazards you’ll be exposed to. Then make sure the equipment will stand up to those hazards. Finally, remember to inspect your PPE every day. Equipment that’s kept in good condition provides the best protection. 8
You Can Handle It…with Gloves Gloves are like a second layer of skin. The right pair of gloves can protect you against chemical irritants or mechanical, physical, or biological causes of skin damage. Care and Fit. Check new gloves for holes by looking between the fingers.
Hold new and worn gloves by the cuffs, swing the gloves to fill them with air and seal the cuffs, then squeeze the gloves to check for leaks.
Save Face…with Headgear Headgear can range from goggles to welding helmets. This PPE protects your face and eyes from splashing chemicals and flying particles. Care and Fit. Use a defogger several times a day to prevent headgear from
fogging up. Make a habit of storing headgear where it can’t be damaged.
Don’t Be Defeated…Wear Boots The right pair of boots or safety shoes can protect your toes and prevent chemicals from contacting the skin on your feet. Care and Fit. Wash rubber boots to keep irritants from building up. Wearing
the right size boots can mean the difference between healthy and blistered skin, which can become infected. Cotton socks absorb sweat.
Cover Your Body…for Total Protection Cover your body to protect it from splashing chemicals, flying particles, and heat and cold. Have damages repaired, or replace the PPE. Care and Fit. Clean reusable body coverings and discard disposable
coveralls properly. Have PPE repaired with materials that will protect you. Getting the right fit means PPE that’s the right length and comfortable.
Prevention: Follow Safe Habits Having a clean, organized workplace and knowing how to handle chemicals are the keys to preventing skin damage. By learning how to avoid problems ahead of time, knowing where to look for information, and following the rules your employer has set up to protect you, you can make safe work habits pay off for you and for everyone in your workplace.
Wash Up Remove irritants as soon as possible so they don’t stay on your skin. Remember to wash with mild soap or non-irritating cleaners.
Keep Work Clothes Separate After work, change your clothes so you don’t expose your home to irritants. Don’t wash your work clothes with your street clothes.
Stay Organized Keep your work area neat and clean to help avoid accidents. Change rags often, and keep cleaning materials handy.
Read MSDSs Material Safety Data Sheets (MSDSs) are available in every workplace. They tell you how to use, handle, and store each chemical safely.
Read Warning Labels Labels provide basic warnings and information about chemicals: how to handle spills, give first aid, and safely store and dispose of chemicals.
Keep Work Areas Ventilated Be sure that a ventilation system keeps the air circulating and clean. Tell your supervisor if you suspect the system isn’t working well.
Be Part of the Team Help care for everyone’s health by following your employer’s policies. Team up with your co-workers to create a safe environment.
Treatment: Be Ready with a Plan Even when you protect yourself against known hazards, you may come in contact with an irritant. There might be an accident, you may have an allergic reaction, or be using a harmful substance without knowing it. Developing a plan and following it if youâ€™re exposed can save valuable time in getting treated, and may prevent further damage to your skin. 12
If You’ve Been Exposed… Prevent Further Damage If you’ve had a skin condition for some time, don’t rely on home remedies to solve the problem. Even if you think you know what’s causing the condition, go to the medical department at work or see your personal physician for an accurate diagnosis. Continue using personal protective equipment.
Act Quickly Remove chemical irritants as quickly as possible. Seconds can count, so take off any contaminated clothing immediately. Have someone report the accident to your supervisor. Be sure to follow your company’s procedures.
1 2 3
FLUSH EYES with water for at least 15–20 minutes,
holding them open. Get medical attention.
WASH HANDS under water for at least 20 minutes
to dilute the chemical. Get medical attention.
SHOWER to flush exposed skin. Continue for at least
15–20 minutes, if possible. Get medical attention.
Get Medical Attention Skin damage may or may not be job-related. Your doctor can help you find out whether yours is by asking questions like: • What chemicals and materials do you work with? • When did the condition start and how did it spread? • Have there been any changes—for example, over weekends or vacations? • What are your after-work activities? Your doctor may also test you for allergies and ask about any skin conditions in your family.
Complete Your Treatment If your problem is work-related, you’ll be treated for an on-the-job skin condition. If there seems to be another cause, your doctor may refer you to a specialist for further tests. Be sure to follow the full course of treatment. Even if it looks like the damage has healed, it can flare up again if you don’t use your medication as prescribed or stop it too early.
Keep Your Skin Healthy Skin care extends beyond the workplace. Your activities at home may be irritating your skin and setting the stage for future problems or aggravating a problem that already exists. A good rule to follow at home: Use the same precautions you would use in your workplace. The healthier you keep your skin, the better job it can do to defend you.
Practice Good Skin Care Good hygiene is important. If your skin is dry and cracked (leaving it open to further irritation), apply a lotion. If your skin is too moist (making it easier for some biological hazards to get a foothold), consider changing your socks more often, using foot powder, and using cotton liners inside your gloves. Protect yourself from the sun—use a sunscreen at work and at play to avoid premature aging and skin cancer.
Be Careful with Cleansers Dishwashing detergents, shampoos, and other cleansers are possible sources of irritation at home, especially if you already have a skin condition. Remember to wear gloves to protect your skin.
Avoid Oil and Grease Avoid prolonged contact with oil, grease, or dirt when working, for example, on your car. Change rags as they become heavily soiled. Keep cleaning materials handy and well organized to avoid accidents.
Protect Yourself While Gardening Scratches and abrasions can break down the skin’s protective barrier. When gardening, wear gloves and coveralls to protect your body. Read warning labels on pesticides and follow instructions carefully.
Your Role in Prevention Job-related skin problems can usually be prevented. You can keep your skin healthy by making a habit of protecting yourself from the irritants you work with. And by setting an example for others, you can help make your workplace safe for your co-workers, as well.
Test Your Knowledge 1. T F A sign of major skin damage is skin thickening and cracking. 2. T F Chemical irritants are always liquids. 3. T F Soaps can be chemical irritants. 4. T F Acids can damage your lungs if you breathe their mists or vapors. 5. T F If a glove protects you against mechanical hazards, you can be sure it will also protect you against chemicals. 6. T F Gloves should always be inspected for holes before use. 7. T F The Material Safety Data Sheet (MSDS) will tell you what kind of precautions to take when working with chemicals. 8. T F You can expose your home to irritants that are carried in on your work clothes. 9. T F If you’ve had a skin condition for a long time, you should be patient, because it might go away on its own. 10. T F If your eyes are exposed to chemical irritants, you should flush them with water for at least 15–20 minutes. Answers on page 3 Consultant: Robert M. Adams, MD, Occupational Dermatology With contributions by: Lori K. Rieth, RN, MS, COHN, Corporate Medical Services Karen Dannenberg, RN, COHN, Occupational Health Services