Skin disorders in chemical industry workers

Author: Brian Wu, MD candidate, Keck School of Medicine, Los Angeles, USA. DermNet New Zealand Editor in Chief: Hon A/Prof Amanda Oakley, Dermatologist, Hamilton, New Zealand. December 2016.

The manufacturing of chemicals has a major impact on important industries such as agriculture, but the nature of this work can take a toll on its workers. According to a European Union Study, around one of four cases of occupational dermatoses is related to chemical exposure. Occupational dermatoses affects approximately 4–11 out of every 1000 workers in the chemical industry. 

Why are workers in the chemical industry at risk?

The elevated risk for workers in the chemical industry comes from several important factors:

In developed nations, rates of dermatoses have gone down due to increased automation, changes in chemical manufacturing processes, and better education for employers and employees.

Understanding occupational skin disorders

The skin offers a natural defence against pathogens and other potentially harmful substances. However, forces like friction, heat and cold, irritants and allergens can all eventually cause a breach in this natural barrier, leaving it more vulnerable to breakdown and to secondary bacterial skin infections. While occupational skin diseases can affect workers from any sector, some occupations — like work in the chemical industry — put their workers on higher risk.

Occupational skin diseases have an economic impact. The wider economic impact of these disorders largely stems from: 

Skin disorders related to work in the chemical industry

Workers in the chemical industry are at risk for several different kinds of skin diseases.

Contact dermatitis

Contact dermatitis is the most common skin complaint among chemical industry workers, who may develop allergic contact dermatitis and/or irritant contact dermatitis.

Follicular lesions

Skin cancer

Chemical burns

There are high rates of chemical burns in the chemical industry.

Contact leukoderma

Contact leukoderma or white patches can occur if skin is in contact with phenolic compounds and are a hazard in industries exposed to these.

Workplace risk assessment

A thorough workplace risk assessment should identify any problems with poor workplace safety.

Workplace safety guidelines should include:

Personal protective equipment

Due to the dangerous nature of chemical work, different kinds of personal protective equipment might be needed in order to keep employees safe, including:

Hand care advice for chemical industry workers

Taking care of the hands is important for workers in the chemical industry. They can do this by:

Diagnosis and treatment of occupational hand dermatoses

Diagnosis of an occupational skin disorder should be based on the following:

Treatment of dermatitis can include:

Related information

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