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Skin Health Surveillance

Skin Health SurveillanceWork-related skin problems are caused or made worse by exposure to substances such as chemicals, and also through having wet hands for long periods of time while at work.

Employees who require to wear gloves for prolonged periods of time may fall into this category.

Dermatitis (also known as eczema) is by far the most common, but urticaria (hives, welts or nettle rash and appears as a raised, itchy rash) can also occur in the workplace

Skin Health Surveillance

Several substances in the workplace could potentially cause dermatitis.

In your hazard Identification and Risk assessment work you would have identified these substances that are injurious to skin health. Look for warning signs and R-Phrases (R42 and R43)

The ways in which skin comes into contact with chemical agents are direct contact with substances, splashes and touching contaminated surfaces (eg work surfaces, tools, coveralls and gloves). Also, airborne substances can deposit on the skin.

Skin Irritants and Skin Sensitisers have warning symbols on their labels and packaging, and state warnings on the MSDS sheets which indicate that there is risk of harming the skin.


Occupational Dermatitis
  • Irritants causes Contact Irritant Dermatitis (80% of occupational dermatitis)
  • Irritants can be soaps or detergents which strip the skins protective layer in frequent washing or wet work.
  • Irritants can be acids or alkalis which can corrode the outer layer of skin
  • Irritants can physically abrade the outer layer of skin
  • Common irritants are detergents, degreasers, solvents, cutting oils, wet-work

Wet work – followed by contact with soaps and cleaners
There is no hard and fast rule on when wet work is likely to be a risk. However, as a rule of thumb, prolonged contact of more than about 2 hours, or more than 20-40 hand washes/contacts a day, are likely to lead to dermatitis. Dermatitis from wet work is common in trades such as hairdressing, metal machining, catering, cleaning and healthcare.

Skin Sensitisers cause Allergic Contact Dermatitis (20% of occupational dermatitis)
The worker becomes sensitized to the substance and develops an allergic reaction to contact with the substance. Once the individual becomes sensitized each contact will cause an acute reaction.

Common sensitisers are chromates (cement), epoxy resins, formaldehyde, wood dust, and flour.

Skin checks are a crucial part of managing skin disease at work.
When employees are exposed to hazardous substances, employers need to ensure that, where appropriate, employees are under suitable health surveillance. Skin Health Surveillance is carrying out straightforward visual checks of employees' skin where there is skin exposure to hazardous substances and determining the cause of dermatitis.

Regular skin checks will help to identify the early stages of dermatitis or other skin effects caused by skin exposure. The earlier that health effects are recognised and treated, the more likely it is that the sufferer will make a full recovery.

How to Manage Risk of Occupational Dermatitis

Prevent and Control Exposure

  • Avoid contact by elimination
  • Avoid contact by substitution
  • Avoid or reduce contact
  • Avoid or reduce contact by using procedural controls
  • Use Barrier Creams
  • Use Personal Protective Equipment

Use Health Surveillance to detect the early onset of dermatitis, the earlier a skin condition is detected the better the prognosis. Skin Health Surveillance is a measure of effectiveness of the skin exposure control measures listed above.

MedWise Mobile Medicals Skin Health Surveillance Service

Risk assessment should identify if a skin health surveillance programme is required. The objective of a skin surveillance programme is to provide regular checks to reduce the chances of any employee suffering occupational dermatitis.

Skin health surveillance focuses on collecting and using information about workers’ health related to the substances they use. It helps prevent the development of dermatitis by detecting the early signs of skin disease.

Health surveillance is never an alternative to the proper control of exposure

Irritant contact dermatitis may effect several exposed workers while allergic contact dermatitis presents in sporadic cases.

Skin Health exams can be easily carried out in conjunction with other health surveillance programs. The evidence from the skin health exams will be useful in determining the causation of the dermatitis.