An occupational skin disorder is a skin
condition wholly or partially caused by a person's work
What causes occupational skin
Types of skin disorders:
definitions and symptoms
Statistics and occupations
most at risk
The skin plays a very important role as a barrier to chemicals
and other contaminants entering the body. Skin disorders may
disrupt this barrier function.
Occupational skin disease is a skin disorder wholly or partially
caused by a person's work activity. It’s important to remember that
skin diseases can also have non-occupational and genetic
What causes occupational skin diseases?
Occupational skin diseases are caused by direct contact with one
or more hazardous substances. The skin can come into contact with
- contact with contaminated tools or surfaces, for example a
workbench, tools or clothing
- the substance landing on the skin
For more information, visit the HSE’s webpage How does skin come into
contact with chemicals?
Types of skin disorders: definitions and
Occupational skin disorders include:
- contact dermatitis or eczema
- contact urticaria
- acne and folliculitis
- pigmentation changes
- skin cancer
- skin infections
You can get more information on these skin diseases on the HSE’s
webpage Types of skin
Most occupational skin diseases are confined to the hands and
forearms, since they are the parts of the body most often in
contact with hazardous agents. The most common skin condition is
contact dermatitis (also known as contact eczema). Dermatitis is
caused by an inflammation of the skin. Symptoms include redness,
dryness, itching, swelling, cracking, blistering, flaking and
There are two types of contact
dermatitis: irritant dermatitis and allergic dermatitis. These
have the same appearance but different causes.
Irritant dermatitis can be caused by a physical or chemical
agent that damages the cells. Irritant dermatitis makes the skin
more vulnerable to other hazards such as bacteria and chemicals.
When there’s no more contact with what’s causing the irritation,
the condition stops.
Allergic dermatitis is caused by exposure to an allergen or
sensitiser, normally a hazardous substance. When the sufferer’s
immune system reacts to it, they become sensitised. Once
sensitised, the problem is usually lifelong and any further
exposure will lead to an attack.
Both irritant and allergic dermatitis can be present together
and it’s not uncommon for allergic dermatitis to develop following
Causes of irritant dermatitis include cleaning products, organic
solvents, metalworking fluids, cement and other chemicals, some
plants and shrubs, and water.
Although we need water to wash our hands, too much exposure to
water can cause irritant dermatitis. This is particularly important
in wet work. Those involved in wet work include hairdressers,
workers in the food industry and people who work with metalworking
Allergic contact dermatitis can be caused by allergens such as
cement, metals (eg nickel and chromium) and resins. Latex is a
common cause of allergic dermatitis. It’s commonly found in the
healthcare industry, where latex gloves are worn routinely. For
more information, visit the HSE’s webpage on latex
To find out more about the most common causes of contact
dermatitis, visit the HSE’s webpage on causative agents.
Common risk factors for dermatitis are atopy, wet work and the
use of gloves. Although gloves can provide workers with protection,
they can also present a risk. Gloves must be appropriate to the
task being carried out and be used properly. Using damaged gloves
can give a false sense of security. Impervious gloves form a
non-permeable barrier that may result in the build up of sweat,
which means the wearer is effectively carrying out wet work.
urticaria is a skin condition characterised by redness
(erythema) and swellings. The swellings appear where the hazardous
substance has come into contact with the skin. Swellings normally
occur within an hour of exposure and disappear after 24 hours.
Latex is a common cause of the condition.
Acne is caused
by a blockage and inflammation of the glands in the skin. It can be
caused by exposure to oil, halogenated aromatic hydrocarbons and
coal tar. It can also be caused by long term contact with oily
Folliculitis is an inflammation of the hair follicles. This
condition is common in people in the metal industry who are exposed
to mineral and soluble oils.
Pigmentary disorders include depigmentation (a loss of skin
colour) and hyperpigmentation (an accumulation of skin colour).
Depigmentation can be caused by chemicals such as hydroquinine,
phenol (and its derivatives), arsenic and mercury compounds. It can
also be caused by ionising and ultraviolet radiation, as well as
thermal or physical trauma. Hyperpigmentation can be caused by
mineral oils, halogenated hydrocarbons, arsenic and various
can be caused by ultraviolet light (either sunlight or artificial),
ionising radiation, polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons, tar and tar
Occupational skin infections are often caused by contact with
animals or plants. Visit the Haz-Map webpage for information on
jobs associated with occupational skin
Statistics and occupations most at risk
Skin diseases accounted for around 2
per cent of total days sickness absence certified due to all
occupational illnesses as reported in 2009-11 THOR GP
Scheme survey. According to 2011/12 Labour
Force Survey, an estimated 15,000 workers who had worked in the
previous 12 months had skin problems which they believed were
caused or made worse by their work. In 2011, 1,556 cases of
occupational skin disease were reported by dermatologists and
occupational physicians in Great Britain. 1,199 (77 per cent) of
these reported cases were related to contact dermatitis, 126 (8 per
cent) were other non-cancerous dermoses whilst the remainder 231
(15 per cent) were related to skin cancers.
During the last few years, the most common
agents cited by dermatologists and occupational physicians as
causes of skin disease were "soaps and cleaners", "wet work", and
"rubber chemicals and materials".
Work-related dermatitis is very common and affects people in
many industries. These include:
- catering and food processing
- health and social care
- mining and quarrying
The HSE’s Skin
Disease Programme focuses on a small number of occupations
that have the highest risk of dermatitis and/or account for the
high numbers of cases each year. The HSE lists hazardous agents
commonly encountered in these occupations. Florists and
hairdressers have the highest rates of dermatitis. The HSE has
specifically aimed at preventing dermatitis in hairdressers.
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Stress | Musculoskeletal disorders | Skin disorders
Inhalation disorders | Non work-related conditions